I-TEAM: Jacksonville police see increase in thieves stealing expensive car parts

Crooks cutting catalytic converters from cars, SUVs, trucks

Jacksonville police are seeing an increase in thefts of catalytic converters. Crooks are cutting the expensive car part out from under a vehicle and selling it as scrap, making pennies on the dollar.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Jacksonville police are seeing an increase in thefts of catalytic converters. Crooks are cutting the expensive car part out from under a vehicle and selling it as scrap, making pennies on the dollar.

“I cranked up my car, and it sounded like NASCAR,” said Abrien Nelson, a 22-year-old Jacksonville resident. “It just sounded like an explosion coming out of the engine.”

He knew something wasn’t right when he got in his Toyota Sequoia SUV one morning. Mechanics told him both of his SUV’s catalytic converters had been stolen.

“I did not even know this was something that could happen in my vehicle,” Nelson said. “I did not even know that it was something that could be easily taken out.”

Abrien Nelson said mechanics told him both of his SUV’s catalytic converters had been stolen. (Copyright 2022 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved.)

He lives in a gated apartment complex off Monument Road, but that gate was broken at the time. Now, he’s faced with a big bill — no fun for a recent college graduate. While insurance sometimes covers costs, catalytic converter replacement can cost upwards of $1,500 per unit on a standard vehicle.

“It’s very frustrating,” he added.

A catalytic converter takes harmful emissions from an engine and makes them into safer gases, like steam. It’s made up of precious metals and those are incredibly expensive right now.

According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau:

  • Rhodium: $20,000 per ounce
  • Palladium: $2,938 per ounce
  • Platinum: $1,128 per ounce

The News4JAX I-TEAM has been following the trends, discovering bands of thieves use saws to cut the parts out in a matter of minutes.

RELATED: In 1 minute, thieves can snag this expensive part off your car or truck

“It’s more of a specialized crime if you will,” Jacksonville Sheriff’s Officer Christian Hancock. “We don’t know what they’re doing with them, can’t figure out where they’re going, but obviously a lot gets stolen, and they end up leaving.”

He believes many criminals are selling the parts out of state because Florida has strong laws for scrap yards.

JSO records show police are seeing an increase in reports:

  • From mid-April to mid-July 2021, there were 135 incidents of catalytic converter thefts.
  • During that same period in 2022, there were 166.
  • In the past year, detectives assigned to these cases have made more than 70 arrests.

Officers need help to report suspicious activity.

“It makes noise,” Hancock noted. “It’s not a quiet crime. When they climb under there with the saws and start cutting metal, you can hear that.”

To protect your vehicle:

  • Park in a garage or a well-lit area
  • Have cameras nearby
  • And you can even have someone engrave a VIN or serial number on the parts — making them harder to sell

To fight catalytic converter thefts nationwide, the U.S. House has a bipartisan bill called the Preventing Auto Recycling Theft Act. If the bill becomes law, it would require new vehicles to have the VIN stamped onto the converter so law enforcement can link stolen parts to vehicles and create a grant program to pay for stamping existing cars. The bill also spells out penalties for stealing and trafficking stolen parts and details requirements for people to document buying and selling parts.


About the Author:

Lifetime Jacksonville resident anchors the 8 and 9 a.m. weekday newscasts and is part of the News4Jax I-Team.