Catalytic converter theft becoming a concern in the KC metro

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — It’s a crime that turns your car into a noisy nuisance.

The rising concern with the latest wave of catalytic converter theft is even an issue at Kansas City’s municipal tow lot, where some people seek a cheap car at auction. Managers at the impound yard have had to change the way they do business. That’s where cars of many original go to auction 30-60 days after arriving. Their arrivals usually happen via tow truck or flatbed. 

Some cars have been involved in crashes, whole others have been impounded by police after being connected to a crime. Many are in complete disarray, while a handful still look wholly useful.

In the past few months, tow lot managers have been forced to check more closely for catalytic converters on each car, whereas that wasn’t a necessity in the past. 

“Customers hate it,” Nathan Pare, the city’s tow services manager, said. “They’re disappearing like crazy.”

“People are coming down and they’re wanting to buy vehicles in the auctions and we’re trying to tell them — “By the way, the converter is gone on it.” If you’re buying a car and the converter is gone, there’s an immediate expense for you right there because you have to get that addressed.”

Pare said customers are often times investigating their new purchase to find the catalytic converters have been stolen. Most auction purchases leave the lot via wrecker or flatbed truck, just as they arrived. Cars are auctioned in an “as-is” format. Pare said it’s even a hassle for salvage buyers, who may be searching for parts to purchase. Pare said the lot now checks every car for catalytic converters, and makes visible efforts to inform auction buyers of related problems.

Since COVID-19 hit, the lot’s monthly auctions have gone online since tow lot managers can’t permit large crowds onto their premises. The lot offers a midweek viewing day for interested buyers, but not every auction customer is able to attend.

“A high school sophomore can go in with a battery-operated saw and remove a catalytic converter in about 20 seconds,” Pare added.

Kansas City Police crime statistics seem to support Pare’s claim. Through November 19th, KCPD’s property crimes unit showed an uptick in thefts:

  • 638 catalytic converters stolen or damaged
  • 13 mufflers
  • 18 exhaust pipes

Police say an increase in value of the metals found within catalytic converters has driven this problem back to the forefront. Detectives also say they’ve noticed a rise in property crimes since the pandemic struck as desperate people are sometimes resorting to theft. 

The toughest piece of this puzzle continues to be the scrapyards that purchase catalytic converters. KCPD Sergeant Jacob Becchina told FOX4 some cat converters are still junked out in a legitimate way, and it’s not always easy for junkyard owners to know who’s on the up-and-up.

“It’s the value of that scrap metal,” Becchina said. “Right now, there’s not a lot of identifying markings on there or identifying markings on there to trace it back to your vehicle.”

Becchina said he’s heard of some car owners etching their car’s VIN number onto the catalytic converters, or welding the part to the frame of their car. He and auto body experts say otherwise, car owners who park outdoors are somewhat defenseless.

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