A number of Ontario police services are alerting car owners that a rise in catalytic converter thefts across North America has also hit a number of Southern Ontario locales since the start of spring.
Over the past week, Halton Regional Police (HRPS) and OPP in Brant, Norfolk and Haldimand County have reported spikes in thefts related to the exhaust devices which contain valuable metals like palladium, cadmium and rhodium.
HRPS says 29 have been stolen since the beginning of last month in just one of the districts they patrol — the Milton-Halton Hills area.
“A significant portion of these thefts are occurring on weekends and almost all of them occur overnight,” HRPS said in a release on Wednesday
“Thieves are targeting vehicles parked in quiet industrial lots and large apartment buildings however these thefts can occur anywhere.”
OPP say they’ve had at least 10 reported cases in the past month in Dunnville, Selkirk, Hagersville and Brantford.
“Car thieves know that there is a strong demand from repair shops and individuals looking to save money on replacement parts,” OPP Const. Mary Gagliardi said in a statement on the recent thefts.
“Some disreputable shops even charge a customer for a brand new catalytic converter when in fact it is a used, stolen item.”
Steve Fletcher, managing director of the Automotive Recyclers of Canada, told Global News he isn’t surprised to hear about recent thefts.
“It is a global issue, mainly because those precious metals that are in catalytic converters are global commodities,” he said, adding that mounting sanctions against Russia, a major supplier of the world’s metal, are making catalytic converters and other auto parts even more valuable.
“Scrap vehicles, like a flattened hulk, a month ago it would have been dollars, today it’s worth three or four hundred dollars just in terms of the iron involved.”
It’s estimated that a stolen device in Ontario could fetch between $5 and $1,000, depending on the concentration of precious metals inside.
An installation at a repair shop, converter included, could run up to $2,000 for some vehicles.
Fletcher said a patchwork of loose regulations means scrapyards often don’t have enough rules in place to ensure the catalytic converters they buy were obtained legally.
“Once a (catalytic converter) is cut out of a vehicle, it’s really hard to figure out where did it come from, what even type of vehicle let alone which specific vehicle it was cut out of,” Fletcher said.
He’s calling for tighter restrictions on purchasing auto parts.
In March, the B.C. government did implement a regulation requiring registered metal dealers to report each converter transaction, including information about the seller, to police on the day of sale.
The problem has been significant enough for Hamilton Police (HPS) to launch campaigns focused on the thefts in recent times.
In July 2020, HPS laid 68 charges in a two-week initiative called “Project Garfield” which resulted in 27 arrests in unconnected thefts of the converters.
Meanwhile, Niagara Regional Police (NRPS) busted up a ring targeting vans and pick-ups early in 2021.
Two men were charged in connection with 30 different thefts in Niagara Falls and Thorold.
The OPP’s Gagliardi encourages car owners to park in well-lit areas and have surveillance cameras installed.
“Our goal is to either prevent the theft or in the very least, identify the people responsible,” Gagliardi said.
HRPS says it’s stepping up targeted patrols in industrial areas, self-storage units and parking lots.
The police services are also recommending vehicles be parked in a way that makes it harder to access their underside — like against a wall or by other vehicles.
— with files from Suzanne Lapointe and Richard Zussman