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Why are catalytic converters a rising target for theft in Sask.?

Saskatchewan RCMP explain the "how" and "why" of these type of thefts
catalytic converter stock
Saskatchewan RCMP said the theft of catalytic converters, which are part of a vehicle's exhaust system, was up over 600 per cent last year.

REGINA — The phrase “catalytic converter theft” is trending in Saskatchewan, leaving many to wonder why this specific vehicle part is suddenly in the spotlight.

The theft of catalytic converters has been on a steep rise across the province in the last 12 months, according to law enforcement, with reports expected to continue to rise this year.

So, why is that? Saskatchewan RCMP offered some insight into the “how” and “why” of catalytic converter thefts in the province. 

How common is this problem?

A Saskatchewan RCMP statement confirmed that province-wide, reports of vehicle part thefts are on the rise in communities big and small in Saskatchewan. This includes catalytic converters and diesel particulate filters, 

Hotspots for this problem have been in and around cities, like Saskatoon and Regina, said RCMP.  Frequent targets tend to be automobile-related businesses, especially those that have compounds that are housing vehicles. 

“These businesses are often located in rural or industrial areas on the edges of our bigger cities,” said a written statement from the RCMP.

In the past three years, RCMP confirmed they have seen reports of catalytic converter or diesel particulate filter thefts spike significantly.

Province-wide, only 26 incidents of this kind of theft were reported to the RCMP in 2019, followed by 18 reports filed in 2020. Then, in 2021, a total of 140 reports came in — an increase of 678 per cent.

RCMP also noted that some of those filed reports include more than one part being stolen. Seven filed incidents from 2021 involved the theft of more than 10 devices, and the total number of these parts RCMP recorded were stolen was over 300 last year. 

Additionally, these numbers only reflect incidents reported to the RCMP. They don’t include statistics recorded by municipal police — like the Saskatoon Police Service, who recently said they have seen thefts rise from 14 in 2020 to over 300 in 2021.

What’s the impact of seeing thefts rise?

In addition to being a financial and situational aggravation to the victims of these thefts, a rise in catalytic converters disappearing is being reflected in insurance payouts.

After incidents are reported to law enforcement, the next step for many vehicle owners is filing an insurance claim to get repairs underway. Replacement of a catalytic converter can total thousands of dollars, after labour. 

SGI received 34 insurance claims resulting from the theft of the catalytic converter from the claimant’s vehicle in 2020, totalling approximately $77,000. The following year in 2021, a total of 608 claims were made in Saskatchewan, at a cost of $1.26 million.

As of Feb. 15 of 2022, SGI said that it has received 181 claims already, with costs yet to be determined.

The majority of these claims to SGI have been made in Saskatoon and Regina, with 306 made in the former and 142 in the latter in 2021.

SGI also noted that not every victim of this kind of theft files an insurance claim. Some vehicle owners choose to pay for their repairs out of pocket, making this data only a snapshot.

Why steal catalytic converters?

RCMP said the driving force behind these thefts is to sell the parts for some quick cash. 

Thieves target catalytic converters specifically because they contain precious metals not necessarily found in all vehicle parts.

Catalytic converters and diesel particulate filters are both emission control devices that function as part of the exhaust system. In order to process the noxious gasses they do, these parts contain amounts of rhodium, palladium and platinum inside them.

Law enforcement believes that most of these stolen parts get taken to scrap metal dealers or scrap yards, to be weighed and paid out for the metals they contain. 

Some also may be sold as used vehicle parts, as it can be hard to trace whether a part is stolen or not during private sale.

According to market estimates, one catalytic converter can sell for between $50 and $700, or possibly more depending on the type of part and the kind of vehicle it was stolen from.

RCMP warned anyone purchasing these kinds of parts to “be aware of the elevated risk of buying stolen property and contributing to the theft problem.”

So how can the public help reduce these stats?

The Saskatchewan RCMP never recommends civilians get directly involved when they see criminal activity happening, but they did offer some tips on how to be on the lookout for suspects potentially pilfering these vehicle parts.

A person intending to steal a catalytic converter or a diesel particulate filter from a vehicle will likely approach carrying a portable power saw or another cutting tool, said RCMP, potentially stashed in a bag or backpack to hide it from sight.

Because of where these parts are located, a suspect will have to crouch down or crawl underneath the vehicle to remove the parts.

“They will remain under the vehicle for a very short amount of time,” said the RCMP statement.

Anyone witnessing this kind of suspicious activity is encouraged to contact their local police agency and report it immediately, but not to get involved.

“Try to notice as much information as possible to describe the person, their vehicle and their clothing to police,” said the RCMP statement.

For those who suspect they may be victims of a theft, there are a few signs that your catalytic converter has been stolen — aside from physically seeing components missing from the undercarriage of your vehicle.

Because it's a part that functions alongside the muffler, your vehicle may suddenly be very loud when the engine is running, becoming even louder when pushing the gas pedal. 

The check engine light also may come on, indicating a system is not operating properly. You may experience less torque while driving, or sluggishness when accelerating or changing speed.

And, as a catalytic converter is the part that reduces noxious exhaust emissions, you may start getting headaches when your vehicle is running, even with the windows down.

A vehicle can still run without a catalytic converter, but vehicle owners are advised not to drive if they think the part is missing, as it could cause more damage if surrounding parts have been compromised.