APD: Catalytic converter thefts on the rise, one neighborhood has more than 350% spike

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin Police say thieves are targeting catalytic converters in record numbers. In early March, police released information on the significant increases they were seeing across the city.

The department’s Commercial Burglary Unit investigated 27 cases of catalytic converter thefts in 2019. Then, last year, cases skyrocketed to 584 thefts reported.

The latest chief’s monthly report from March shows similar figures. Citywide so far there has been an increase of 209% in thefts of auto parts this year compared to last. Police say they believe the reason catalytic converters are being hit the hardest is because of what the emissions control device contains inside. Each catalytic converter carries a small amount of three precious metals — platinum, palladium and rhodium.

Just in the last year, data shows the value of rhodium more than doubled selling for more than $28,000 an ounce — making it worth more than gold.

At present, police say a thief can get several hundred dollars for one catalytic converter. However, for those who have the car part stolen, it can cost a pretty penny to replace. Police say replacing catalytic converters can cost someone up to $6,000.

“That is the last thing I thought they would ever steal from me,” Richard Mulina, a Wells Branch neighbor said. “I figured they would break into my apartment before they did something like this. I laughed and I got under there and I was like, ‘You have got to be kidding me, man. They will steal anything.'”

Four of Mulina’s truck’s catalytic converters were taken last month.

APD sectors

Across APD’s sectors’ the Charlie sector, which covers the majority of the eastern crescent part of town, has the highest number of thefts of auto parts — up 362% this year compared to last year.

The sector covering parts of Central Austin comes in second with a 309% increase. The north and southwest Austin areas were about the same in the 260% range. Then, the south, southeast, northeast and northwest areas all saw on average a 160% spike in thefts of auto parts. Only a part of town near APD headquarters, the George sector, saw a drop in thefts by around 33%.

Police say the problem is the devices are not hard to steal, and it can be difficult to identify who the catalytic converters belong to.

APD had some advice for car owners on how they can protect themselves from becoming a victim. Police suggest people park their cars in a garage if they can, or near a lit area. Also, if possible people should write on their VIN or some sort of identifying information in case it is stolen and police find it, they can return it to the rightful owner.

Motion sensor lights are also a good idea, said one police detective. There are also alarm systems car owners can attach to the catalytic converters to avoid theft.

Catalytic converter theft data for 2020 (APD Photo)
Catalytic converter theft data for 2020 (APD Photo)

Police say the Toyota Prius tops the list for thieves looking to steal catalytic converters, followed by the Honda Element and the Ford Econoline. Police say thieves also target trucks as many of them sit higher and can be easier for thieves to get under.

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