Catalytic converter thefts are up 1,500% in Sacramento County, especially at the used car dealerships along Fulton Avenue. In a recent report, Mike Ataya of Ataya Motors told KCRA 3:
"For the last three or four months, we've never seen it like this... (it happens) almost on a daily or nightly basis... (and) If it's not from me, it's from my neighbor down the street. We get to a point that for a month, we missed about 18 of them."
For Ataya motors, the catalytic converters are being stolen from his lot faster than he can replace them. He currently has nine cars he cannot find converters for, which are just sitting on the lot until he can get his hands on new ones. He's also paid $40,000 out of pock to replace converters stolen off his lot. The situation has escalated to the point that Ataya now sleeps in a car outside of his dealership to try and catch the thieves.
At another used car lot, D1 Auto Sales, owner Liwaa Darwish watched the theft take place:
"He went between the two cars I have on the side right here — the two Hyundai Elantras — and the guy looked left, right, and he just went to lay down went under the car. He was literally there for about eight minutes."
Replacing stolen catalytic converters can cost up to $2,500 and is becoming fairly difficult to do as well, according to Sgt. Tom McCue of the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department:
"One, it's such a high demand because so many are being stolen, and to the shipping issues that we're having right now. It's making it difficult to get these things for these victims. So, your vehicle may sit there for weeks before we can get a replacement color converter, get on there. But for getting your catalytic converter stolen, you have done nothing except be inconvenienced, and now you're paying out of pocket, you're not getting that money back. It's not fair to the community, it's not fair to the victims."
Here are the current number of reported catalytic converter thefts in Sacramento County:
- 2018 — 74
- 2019 — 420
- 2020 — 1,043
- As of October 2021 — 1,214
The most popular vehicles to target:
- Toyotas: 333 reported thefts
- Hondas: 185 reported thefts
- Fords: 121 reported thefts
The main reason for the thefts, according to Sgt. McCue:
"Rhodium, platinum and palladium are the main three that are in catalytic converters. They are valuable so much that they are ranking in the same area as gold and silver."
There are multiple hot-spots in Sacramento County:
- Parking lots
- Apartment complexes
- Strip malls
The way the operation currently functions:
- Thief steals a converter, sells it $200
- The converter is then sold again to a different person for $400
- The converter is then sold yet again on the market, for up to $1,200
Stealing a catalytic converter only takes minutes, McCue stating that fastest he's ever seen is one taken in 40 seconds.
"So ultimately, when it goes to the first, second, third person, they are not going to scrap yards here in Sacramento County. They are being shipped to people that just melt it, basically 'smelt' it is what they call it. They start breaking it apart. I would tend to believe that since there's no paperwork behind these catalytic converters, they know that these are all stolen. But again, they are not the scrap yards that you see here that collect cans and scrap metals and things of that nature."
Prosecuting these thefts has proved to be difficult because by the time a victim realizes their catalytic converter has been stolen, there is no suspect. Additionally, catalytic converters are almost untraceable as there's no vehicle identification number and no license plate number. As a result, Sgt. McCue is pushing lawmakers to make possession of catalytic converters illegal.