WFAA spoke to auto shop workers, a police detective and a former converter thief to learn why and how they’re being stolen from vehicles more often.
DALLAS — Watch Jobin Panicker’s story on WFAA News at 10 p.m.
The number of catalytic converters stolen off of vehicles is happening in North Texas at a staggering rate.
John Hall with A-Affordable Storage has several boat and RV storage locations throughout Texas. Their locations have been hit at least 10 times since the beginning of the year.
“They’re either cutting fences or crashing gates; they’re doing all sorts of things,” said Hall.
Hall told us the Rockwall location was the last to get hit. He gave WFAA a tour and showed the RVs that catalytic converters were taken from. Hall showed where thieves had cut two sides of the converter to steal them.
Catalytic converters are also known as ‘cats’ on the streets and their value is really in the precious metals found inside them. The metals — platinum, palladium, and rhodium — can go for top dollar on the black market.
“[A catalytic converter] filtrates all the bad emissions that are coming out,” said Shawn Massoudi of A-1 Rylie Auto Parts.
Hall said the problem is so pervasive, it has forced A-Affordable to take another look at safety and security measures at their locations. At one of their locations, a crew of five people had stolen 17 catalytic converters in one night.
“It takes 30 seconds,” said detective Jerry Gamez of the Dallas Police Department’s Metal Theft Unit. “It takes longer to climb under than to cut them out,” he said. Gamez said they are investigating upwards of 200 cases a month, and, those are just the cases that have been filed.
WFAA has been in contact with a former auto thief who, for safety reasons, only agreed to communicate in writing. It’s a peek into a dangerous world.
He told WFAA that for every job, “It usually takes about two or three guys. There’s always a driver, and one out there watching.” Thieves then usually use hand-held battery-powered sawzalls to cut the converters from the vehicles.
Before any job, though, the former thief said it starts with the buyer. The buyer indicates what make and model of car they need parts from.
“I’d like to think of it as a shopping list and they know what he wants,” said Detective Gamez.
Searching for buyers through salvage yards is a risky proposition. But some could offer $100 per catalytic converter for domestic cars and up to $200 for foreign cars.
Shawn Massoudi tells WFAA that A-1 Rylie Auto Parts is a family business. They sell parts from cars bought at auctions, not from off the streets.
“They’re coming in with a backpack and they wanna sell and I tell them, ‘We are not interested,'” said Massoudi.
It’s Detective Gamez’ job to make sure these yards are complying and not buying off the street. But he said most of the reputable salvage yards he’s responsible for checking up on would not risk working with these thieves.
Gamez said the latest crime groups originate from Houston. They target dark parking garages and dimly lit places with low foot traffic. The former thief wrote to WFAA that “…sometimes we’d scope out places but, most of the time, it’s random, like when we’re driving around.”
John Hall is done being a victim. The RV and Boat Storage locations all have enhanced security because of the latest rash of incidents. He’s filed more police reports this year than ever.
“It makes you so angry [when] you see something like that, right?” he said.
They’re happening so often, police departments can’t keep up. Cities are scrambling to make it illegal to have catalytic converters in possession.
This trend is a product of inflation, a scarcity in metals, and a criminal element that does not quit, and we’re all targets. Detectives say spray-painting and etching in your VIN into the catalytic converter can be deterrents to thieves, but not entirely. They also recommend the use of skid plates, saying they’ve been somewhat effective from preventing theft.