AUSTIN (KXAN) — Four days before Christmas, Guy Santopadre went to start up his truck when an unfamiliar, clangorous sound emitted from his vehicle.
“It sounded like a boat,” said Santopadre, who lives in an Austin apartment complex. “I had this sneaking suspicion that someone had stolen my catalytic converter. So I went underneath to check, and sure enough, my muffler was cut off.”
What Santopadre experienced that morning is unfortunately not uncommon in Texas and around the country. Catalytic converter thefts are on the rise – nationally, catalytic converter thefts rose 109% from June 2021 to June 2022 and 400% since 2019, according to State Farm Auto Insurance. Texas falls only behind California for the highest number of catalytic converter theft claims, according to the insurance company.
Santopadre’s truck was covered by insurance when the converter was stolen, but the experience was still burdensome – both in terms of time and money.
“The cost of this catalytic converter was just under $10,000. I have a $500 deductible. So I only had to pay $500,” he said.
“And on top of that, when I had to get a rental car – which also the insurance company picked up – it was right before Christmas,” he continued. “[The rental company] didn’t have anything, so I had to upgrade and pay for that … All in all, out of pocket, I think it was out about $850.”
Concerned his truck would be targeted again, Santopadre also rented garage space for an additional $100 a month.
“It’s frustrating that not much can be done or is being done about this,” he said.
Texas lawmaker takes up the charge
One of the people who is trying to do something is Texas Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston. He filed SB 465 to create a criminal offense surrounding thefts of the items in hopes to reduce the number of incidents.
“The catalytic converter theft problem has exploded across Texas,” Bettencourt told KXAN. “This is now a tens of hundreds of millions of dollars theft problem.”
SB 465 makes it so that if a person is in possession of a catalytic converter linked to theft, they have committed a crime — unless they are on an approved list of businesses, such as automotive shops, metal recycling entities and salvage yards. However, if a worker is employed by a protected business, but is proven to have known the part was stolen, they will no longer be protected.
Bettencourt said the spike in catalytic converter thefts is fueled in part by organized crime. In his filed bill, Bettencourt outlined that any person caught with a stolen catalytic converter who is also linked with organized crime will receive an elevated offense.
Not all bills filed by Texas representatives pass each session. In 2021, only 38% of the 11,867 bills filed went on to pass in both chambers.
Bettencourt feels optimistic that his effort will become law. In addition to SB 465, there is also SB 432, filed by Sen. Mayes Middleton (R-Wallisville) and SB 224, filed by Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston), with similar goals.
“I think we have all had enough of this,” Bettencourt said.
Why do people steal catalytic converters?
A catalytic converter is a car part found underneath a vehicle that converts harmful compounds into safe gases before they are released into the air.
People steal the devices because they are filled with valuable metals, including palladium, rhodium and platinum. It is these metals that convert the harmful gas molecules into something more environmentally friendly
Some of the precious metals found in catalytic converters are currently more valuable per ounce than gold. Depending on the vehicle the device is taken from, someone selling a catalytic converter can get over $1,000.
“The theft of catalytic converters has become increasingly popular because of their value, relative ease to steal, and their lack of identifying markings,” according to a press release from the Department of Justice last year.