NY city fights catalytic converter thefts

Catalytic converters are a hot commodity in the criminal world and thefts in the region are skyrocketing. In Yonkers, residents were invited to install serial numbers on the part, in an effort to curtail the rising crime.  

Dozens of cars lined up in Yonkers Saturday morning, and the drivers inside were all victims of recent catalytic converter thefts. 

"I was furious, upset," said Yonkers resident Debbie McLaughlin. "I need my car." 

McLaughlin said she went to go shopping one Sunday, "and I started the car, and it sounded like an explosion went off" -- the omen of a stolen catalytic converter. 
Catalytic converters help dull engine noise the muffler misses. But more importantly, they reduce a car’s pollution. When they’re missing, the check engine light comes on, and a car can’t pass emissions.  

"Aside from being a nuisance and a hassle," McLaughlin said, "it was very expensive. It cost $2,600 to have it replaced." 

If you do not have comprehensive insurance, replacing the part -- with labor, since the thieves rip out the O2 wires -- can cost a driver up to $3,000. For the thieves, all it takes is 45 seconds to saw the pipes and make a couple of hundred dollars from the stolen catalytic converter.

"We just want our constituents to know that we care about them," said Tasha Diaz, Yonkers City Council Majority Leader. "That we know that they’ve been hit." 

Diaz and Mayor Mike Spano, invited victims like McLaughlin to receive a free etching kit and installation, in an effort to curb the rising crime.

And there are a lot of victims. In New York City alone, catalytic converter thefts have almost quadrupled this year (5,548) compared to last (1,505). According to the Yonkers Police Department, there are 344 catalytic converter thefts in 2022, an 182% increase since last year, which saw 122. 

Catalytic converters are made with palladium, rhodium, platinum, gold and silver. Thieves keep an eye on the market, because when the value of those metals goes up, so do thefts. 

Etching a serial number into a converter won’t solve the issue, because you can just open the skin and take the metals. But law enforcement can track the part. And don’t try to scratch out the number, that’s a felony.

In New Jersey, legislators are considering bills that would criminalize the possession and distribution of specialized tools used to boost cars and punish people who blow off guidelines for buying and selling catalytic converters. 

"There’s obviously much more that we need to do," Spano said, "but this is a good first start."