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Catalytic converter thefts increasing, costing victims up to $2,000

 Genesee County Sheriff Chris Swanson holds a stolen catalytic converter that was cut off a vehicle.
Genesee County Sheriff Chris Swanson holds a stolen catalytic converter that was cut off a vehicle. (WJRT)
Published: Jan. 22, 2020 at 7:18 PM EST
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(1/22/2020) - Catalytic converter thefts are on the rise in Mid-Michigan, costing motorists hundreds of dollars to replace, according to Genesee County Sheriff Chris Swanson.

He said police agencies around the county have been taking increasing numbers of reports recently. Police busted a theft ring last week, but investigators know there are plenty more thieves in the area.

In a separate case, an auto dealership along the freeway in Fenton lost several catalytic converters recently after thieves slid under a fence, cut them off cars for sale and slipped away undetected, Swanson said.

Every vehicle has a catalytic converter in the exhaust system. It contains small amounts of rhodium, palladium and platinum, which help remove some toxicity from engine exhaust.

Prices of the three precious metals inside are increasing, making the converters a popular target of thieves.

Swanson said thieves have been hitting parking lots, park and ride lots, storage units and dealerships, where lot of vehicles are parked in close proximity. Theft rings are operating during daylight and nighttime hours.

“They go in there and in 30 seconds take a Sawzall, cut them off on both ends and they’re out of there,” he said.

Thieves often work in tandem with one person underneath the vehicles cutting and another person acting as a lookout.

“You have someone watching for traffic while the other person is underneath and they’re cutting these off and they’re throwing them in the back of a truck, a van or a trunk,” Swanson said.

Victims often don't know their vehicles have been targeted until they turn on the ignition. Several warning lights come on and the exhaust system runs very loudly.

Swanson said victims often have to pay $800 to $2,000 for replacement catalytic converters, but some insurance policies cover the theft.

Thieves are selling stolen converters to scrap yards for about $70.

“So they’re totally destroying your day, your car, all the things that you had planned for $70," Swanson. "That’s the unfortunate truth.”

Scrap yards can remove the precious metals from inside and sell them for a profit on the national or international market.

Swanson said investigators have been in contact with several scrap yards around Genesee County. He said some scrap yards are not being totally cooperative, but police have put them on notice that they could face criminal charges for knowingly accepting stolen property.

“Many times they know that what they are getting is probably stolen," Swanson said. "They are just as culpable as the person stealing them if they know and they participate in those thefts.”

The sheriff's office auto theft team is working diligently on catching catalytic converter thieves. The team busted a theft ring last week, which was bringing a load of stolen converters to a scrap yard.

“They’ll pile 50 or 60 of them in the back of a truck. That’s what we’re looking for,” Swanson said.

He said police are working with Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton to bring charges against the thieves.

Swanson said motorists can't do much to their vehicles to prevent a theft. He called on the public to remain vigilant for people acting suspicious in a parking area, especially in groups of two or four.

“If they’re walking around with a Sawzall, by all means call 911,” Swanson said.

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