INVESTIGATES: Spike in catalytic converter thefts

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — A local man says he caught thieves trying to steal a catalytic converter from a Prius in a Southside parking lot. Thanks to the high cost of precious metals used to make the converters, they’ve become a popular target for thieves.

Action News Jax investigator Emily Turner talked with Michael Gill, who caught it all on video. He says, “It was absolute disbelief. I was in my head going, ‘I can’t believe these knuckleheads have this much nerve.’”

Gill says his late-night snack at one in the morning was interrupted by thieves. But it wasn’t the interruption that upset him. “I was in eating ice cream,” he says, “I heard somebody taking out my buddy Carson, somebody was taking out his catalytic converter.”

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That’s when he says he grabbed his phone and went outside. He caught two men pulling what appeared to be a jack out from underneath Gill’s neighbor’s car.

You can hear one of the men ask Gill, “Hey man, what you got going on, man?” Gill is a retired police officer and says he scared them off. His neighbor Carson says they didn’t get away with his converter, just took all the bolts out, damaging the car.

Carson, who didn’t want to give his last name, told Action News Jax he “crank(ed) my car up and my cars making this loud noise, like (a rumble). I could tell it was an exhaust issue.” Carson had to buy new bolts to fix it.

But he’s lucky. Buying another catalytic converter would have been expensive. They cost anywhere from one to three thousand dollars to replace, depending on the car. They net thieves big money because of the precious metals inside them. Rhodium goes for about $14,000 an ounce. Palladium sells at $2023 an ounce and Platinum is $1043 an ounce.

Still, Gill says, he never thought it would happen in his neighborhood. JSO doesn’t keep records of catalytic converter thefts, but according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, theft increased across the country. They went from 1,298 in 2018 to 14,433 in 2020 — and many more go unreported.

The Toyota Prius like Carson’s, and other hybrid vehicles, are popular targets because their hybrid engines don’t wear out catalytic converters as much. “That’s my car,” Carson says, “that’s how I make my money. Like, if they had actually got that catalytic converter, I don’t have $1,500 to fix that right now.”

SUVs and trucks and also popular because they are higher off the ground and easier for thieves to get to.

Thanks to state law, converters are harder to sell in Florida and Georgia when they aren’t attached to a car. But the officer who responded to Gill’s call told him thieves have found a workaround. He says, “the police officer that was here…said they were grabbing a bunch of them and heading up to New York and selling them.”

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Action News Jax reached out to JSO about their plan to tackle this uptick in catalytic converter theft. A spokesperson told ANJ investigator Emily Turner that JSO currently has a unit of patrol officers tasked with cases specific to the thefts of catalytic converters. Additionally, said there are also detectives in the Crimes Against Property Section that monitor second-hand scrap vendors who possess certificates in the buying and reselling of catalytic converters.

The State of Florida’s Department of Agriculture monitors and reports the purchasing and re-selling of catalytic converters.

Here’s how you can be sure to keep your car safe:

When possible, keep your vehicle parked in a closed garage.

  • Park in well-lit areas with surveillance.
  • If possible, adjust your car alarm to respond to vibrations.
  • If you have a large car, park in areas that make undercarriage access difficult (i.e., near shrubbery, smaller cars, fences, etc.)

You can even take things a step further by:

  • Purchasing and installing a catalytic converter guard.
  • Ask a local body shop to etch your vehicle’s VIN onto the catalytic converter.

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