In 2020, in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, cars and car parts were stolen — all over the country, in wealthy and poor neighbourhoods, and in numbers that have alarmed authorities. Causes for the surge are complex, but law enforcement, insurance analysts and even mechanics point fingers at factors like fallout from Covid and the skyrocketing price of precious metals found in catalytic converters – emissions control devices required by law on every fuel burning car sold in America. Auto thefts and car part thefts can cost drivers thousands of dollars in repairs, higher insurance costs and, of course, the price of a new car. Just one catalytic converter theft can be expensive to replace and keep a car stuck in the shop for days or even weeks. So what to do about it? How can consumers protect themselves? And what about the auto industry itself? Can carmakers design and make cars more resistant to theft? In 2020, auto thefts increased 9.2 percent over 2019, according to a study by the National Insurance Crime Bureau, or NICB. Overall, the group measured 873,080 thefts throughout the year, over 73,000 more than the 799,644 seen in 2019. Usually the Ford F-150 and F-250. It’s unusual and it bucks the trend. For quite a few years now, several years, we’ve seen the auto thefts trending down. So this year is a significant blip. Looking a bit deeper into the data reveals a few other trends. David Glawe is president and CEO of the NICB, a nonprofit that works to prevent insurance fraud and theft. He is a -year law enforcement veteran. He started as a police officer, worked as an FBI agent and served as undersecretary for Homeland Security in charge of intelligence. You do have certain kind of vehicles that are targeted more than others. And there are certain states that have more auto thefts that others, in general that’s because the population. So the top states for auto theft are California, Texas and Florida. And the top vehicles are Ford pickups and Chevy pickups. Usually the Ford F- and F-. Honda Civics and Honda Accords.
They have over time been the most targeted. The pandemic has also changed what types of crimes are being committed. For example, burglaries of businesses and other commercial buildings rose during 2020, in part because buildings were often unoccupied. Brian Higgins is a former police chief for Bergen County, New Jersey. He is currently an adjunct professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City and the director of the Brosnan Institute, the training division of Brosnan Risk Consultants. What we saw was a decrease in residential burglaries because everybody’s now home working and quite often home burglaries occur during work hours. So the same is true with car thefts. We don’t have big parking lots full of cars. We don’t have parking rides full of cars. We don’t have parking garages or corporate parking lots. Auto thefts can take the form of opportunistic street crime, stealing a car and taking it for a drive or using it to commit another crime. But some cars, especially high end ones and coastal cities, can be targeted by sophisticated criminal networks that end with the vehicle in a shipping container bound for another country, according to Higgins. Once a car is stolen, there is a short window in which it stands the best chance of being recovered, depending on the type of theft and what time of day it is. If your car’s stolen from your driveway at 2:00 in the morning, they’re not so much in a rush just to get it to an area to either chop it up or remove the catalytic converter because. They think you’re sleeping and you may not know and they’ll use your car to commit other crimes. So that’s the time of day that the car is stolen. But, if we talk about a car stolen out of your driveway during regular hours, you know, eight to five, they want to get that car out of sight right away because they know law enforcement’s going to be notified. Some areas, especially ones in and around large cities, have seen an alarming rise in carjacking as well. These are when a thief steals a car while it is occupied. The top cities are Chicago, Minneapolis, Orleans, Kansas City and Washington State. And we’ve seen over a hundred percent and sometimes even percent increase in carjacking in these cities. Auto theft rates like these cost insurance companies millions of dollars a year, which is then passed on to customers in their premiums.
The three places with the highest insurance rates are the states of Louisiana and Michigan, along with the city of Washington, DC., according to the Insurance Information Institute. The three least expensive states are North Dakota, Maine and Iowa. The average customer in pricey Louisiana pays $1,545.82 cents per year. The average customer in North Dakota pays $686.08 which is about 56 percent cheaper. Rates can vary widely when one moves to a city from a smaller town. Along with the rise in auto thefts, there has been a surge of thefts of catalytic converters. Tony Nguyen runs Bayshore Auto Tech, a repair shop in San Jose, California. Over a six month span ending March of twenty twenty one. Wins said he saw an average of about 10 cars per month that had had their catalytic converters stolen. He’s owned the shop for 26 years and said he has never seen anything like this. A catalytic converter filters pollutants out of vehicle exhaust. It does this by allowing the exhaust to pass through a honeycomb flecked with small deposits of precious metals, including rhodium, palladium and platinum. These metals cling to carbon monoxide, hydrocarbon and nitrous oxide. Catalytic converters have been required on all cars sold in America since the 1975 model year. But they have become an ever more important part in the years since, as emissions regulations have tightened and as countries all around the world have stepped up their own emissions fighting laws. The automotive industry accounts for about 80 percent of the global demand for rhodium and palladium and 40 percent of the global demand for platinum. Production of platinum group metals in South Africa, the world’s leading supplier of mined material, fell by 11 percent in 2020 compared with 2019, according to the United States Geological Survey. This was largely because of temporary Covid-19 lockdowns, higher labor costs and challenges related to deep level mining. About 80 percent of rhodium comes from South Africa, and supplies have been low. At one point in December 2020 platinum cost $1,061 per ounce. Palladium came in at $2,336 per ounce, and rhodium is valued at a whopping $14,500 per ounce. A thief can remove a catalytic converter from a car with a battery powered saw in a couple of minutes. What they is they just cut right here and they gonna cut right here. These parts can be sold to recycling centers or unscrupulous body shops for anywhere from $50 to $250. Once the part is removed, the owner is left with a vehicle that makes an earsplitting average thefts per month in sound and is not street legal. It’s like the car runs without a muffler. It’s like a jackhammer or it’s like a NASCAR.
That’s what it sound, it will scare you at first when you start it up. There were 1,203 average thefts per month in 2020 across the United States, according to a study from NICB. This is a massive increase over the 282 average monthly thefts in 2019 and 108 thefts per month on average in 2018. In 2020, the top five states for catalytic converter thefts were California, Texas, Minnesota, North Carolina and Illinois. The pace of theft rose throughout the year. Each month from June through December showed double digit gains. In January, there were 652 incidents, but by December there were 2,347, At the beginning of May 2021, 45 bills were introduced across 23 states to fight the rise of catalytic converter thefts. Bills have already been passed in Indiana, Tennessee and West Virginia. On one Thursday in mid-March 2021, Nguyen had three vehicles in his shop, all of which had the catalytic converters stolen from them. Replacing the part is expensive. The converter itself is expensive, owing in part to the price of the metals. But a mechanic can’t just easily swap in a new device. The thing is, you have to replace the whole entire exhaust system. Yeah, not just catalytic converter. You have to replace a whole pipe, rear pipe and the front pipe. This pipe has to be replaced also. There are also long waits for the part. Nguyen said he has waited months for some. Thefts are driving up demand and coronavirus is slowing down supplies. The Toyota Prius is especially valued by thieves for a few reasons, Nguyen said. The car, which is a hybrid vehicle, has two catalytic converters right next to each other. In addition, because the Prius relies on electric power for at least part of the time and burns a lot less gasoline, the converters are less used up. But large gas guzzlers can be targets too. A car, truck or SUV with high ground clearance is an especially convenient target because of the easy access. Cars with bigger engines, including trucks and SUVs, are also vulnerable, Nguyen said. The bigger the engine is, the bigger the catalytic converter needs to be.
The exact causes are tough to pin down, but the impact of the coronavirus pandemic is tough to ignore. You have unemployment, you have lack of opportunity for our youth, you have social service organizations that have been shut down because of the pandemic. Schools have been closed. You have lack of opportunity, lack of hope. And all of that will lead to is crime. Community support resources are one way to reduce the problem, according to law enforcement veterans. How are you engaging them, making sure they have employment access, academic access, social services to support them? Because crime rates ebb and flow with the issues in society. And law enforcement is one tool, but you cannot arrest the way out of crime. So how can people protect themselves? For cars, there are a number of steps people can take. Basic things like locking doors, parking in well-lit areas. And as mentioned before, getting some kind of antitheft device. Another thing, make sure the keys aren’t in the car. This, say law enforcement veterans, has become a bit of a problem in the era of remote access key fobs that don’t need to be inserted in the ignition. Some cars even have little holsters for the key fob. But drivers mistakenly leave these fobs inside the car or sometimes even intentionally leave them inside because it is convenient. They don’t have to worry about their keys. You don’t have to check their pockets. So it became, in your home and your house and you feel safe in your home and you’re inside maybe at work on Zoom or some other platform and your car goes away because you left to the fob in the car.
A car can give signals that a key fob might be in the vehicle. The side view mirrors might open up when a key fob is nearby. It can be easy to see which cars might have a key fob in them just by scanning a street. Beyond that, consumers can rely on car alarms or other warning systems and technologies that immobilize vehicles or make them harder to steal, such as smart keys, fuze cutoffs, kill switches, starter ignition, and fuel pump disablers and wireless ignition authentication. Cars are increasingly connected and can be located remotely. General Motors OnStar service, a long running example, can be used to locate a stolen vehicle. To protect against catalytic converter theft, consumers can consider parking their cars in closed, or better, locked garages and installing antitheft devices to deter thieves. Consumers can also check to see what their insurance covers. On one vehicle, a Prius, Nguyen installed a security plate below the new catalytic converter at the customer’s request. The plate is held to the car with screws that require a unique tool to unfasten them. The value of a car and the parts it contains makes it a tempting target. As long as prices for these metals are high, the temptation to steal catalytic converters will remain.