The rise in catalytic converter thefts continues to be a challenge for drivers and local police.
Experts say thefts of the auto exhaust parts have sky-rocketed over the last year and a half — fuelled by the precious metals they contain, along with supply chain issues.
Steve Bernard is a mechanic and owner of Kingston Auto Services, Inc., and says a saw is used to cut the catalytic converter off the vehicles.
“Thieves come underneath with a saw and go slice, slice, and they cut the wire for the oxygen sensor and off they go,” said Bernard.
James McNiece has a PHD in engineering and is also a biometallurgy student at Queen’s University, and says catalytic converters are a hot commodity because they contain precious metals like platinum, palladium and rodium.
“They are mostly valuable because they’re the rarest metals in the earth’s crust and they are not mined at a very high rate,” explained McNiece.
The auto part is designed to reduce harmful emissions.
“So as the vehicle emits the gas…it’s a furnace inside that creates about 600 degrees and that furnace cleans everything up, cleans it up and lets it go,” said Bernard.
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A worldwide shortage has pushed up the price of the precious metals, making catalytic converters a lucrative target for thieves.
In 2020, Belleville police received three reports of catalytic converter thefts. In 2021 that jumped to 25 and in the first month of this year there has already been eight.
Kingston and Napanee are seeing similar trends.
Bernard says he sees at least one victim a month at his shop.
“We hate to see somebody go through this. For example, for the vehicle on my hoist currently, it’s going to be three weeks by the time we get a go-ahead from the insurance company and order the parts and make the repair happen,” Bernard said.
Once converters are stolen, thieves will try to sell them to a re-seller like an auto shop, scrap dealer or a distributor.
John Meaney works at KimCo Steel and says he’s been wary of pieces that have come through the door in the past.
“It was probably the last six or eight months ago when the last visitors came here with a product that we deemed to be inappropriate for purchasing that we rejected and sent them away,” said Meaney.
Meaney says the sale of stolen converters fluctuates and that access to the the rare metals will not improve anytime soon, a statement echoed by McNiece.
“Over time there are many mines planned to open but it takes quite a while — five to 15 years sometimes — so it could be a number of years while this is still a squeeze,” he said.