LAS VEGAS (FOX5) -- If you start your car in the morning and it sounds like a race car or group of motorcycles, you may be a part of a growing group of people who’ve had their catalytic converter stolen.
“There’s got to be a better way to make a living than to steal catalytic converters from the public. It’s a pain in the butt,” said Glen Holden.
Holden’s RV catalytic converter wasn’t even safe behind a secure storage lot. He said someone got over a wall and swiped the catalytic converter. He said he got a call of a break-in at the storage lot and went to check it out. He did not find any signs of a break-in.
“I was pretty happy until I did one last check and that was to fire it up. I turned it on and it sounded like a race car,” said Holden. “I knew exactly what happened. They took the catalytic converter."
The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department said it has seen a spike in catalytic converter thefts in the last half of 2020 and into 2021.
Catalytic converters are part of a car’s exhaust system and reduce harmful emissions. Captain Nick Farese, who works the Spring Valley Area Command, said thefts may have jumped in part due to the pandemic, with people trying to make a “quick buck.” He said there are precious metals inside a catalytic converter that end up being melted down. Some of those metals are worth more than gold.
“It was eye opening to me. The platinum is going for $1,200 dollars an ounce. The palladium going for $2,400 an ounce. And rhodium going for $24,000 an ounce and that’s up roughly 47% year to date,” said Farese.
“We are seeing a huge spike in customers coming in, calling us on the phone, 'Hey, I was parked at a casino, my car was left outside overnight, and my car is really, really loud. Can you please look at my exhaust,'” said Midas store owner Carl Sheppard.
He said about four of his stores recently were repairing an average of about two cars per week per store. He said Toyota Prius models are a popular car for thieves because they have two catalytic converters.
Overall, repairs can be expense for customers.
“Anywhere from $800 dollars all the way up to $1,800 dollars,” said Sheppard.
People who’ve had converters stolen say insurance picked up the cost, but they paid a deductible and had to deal with waiting for repairs.
While thefts are up, Farese said officers have made several arrests. He said in some cases, their partners at scraps yards alerted police about suspicious people selling converters. It is not illegal to sell and buy them.
FOX5 called several scrap yards but none called back. One person at a scrap yard told FOX5 he will not buy catalytic converters because he thinks many would be stolen. We also found people buying and selling used catalytic converters online.
To help police cut down on the crime, Farese said to keep on eye out for suspicious people, including lookouts in public areas. He said if you see someone under a car that just doesn’t look right, call 9-1-1 about what could be a catalytic converter theft in progress.
Tips for keeping thieves away include, if possible, parking your car in a locked garage at night. If you leave your car out at night, try to park it in a well-lit area that has security cameras.
Metal plates can be bolted under catalytic converters to make it more difficult for thieves to get to them. One theft victim we spoke with had her mechanic weld metal rods throughout her exhaust system, so it would be harder for thieves to cut out the catalytic converter.
People can also buy motion alarms for their cars, as well as a level sensor. It will go off if someone tries to jack up a car to steal a catalytic converter.
Farese said a thief may get about $50 to $150 dollars when selling it.
He said he doesn't know of many places in Nevada that melt the metal. He said there are some are in California, the East Coast and some out of the country.