JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – In approximately 60 seconds, thieves are taking off with an expensive car part, and it’s costing drivers thousands of dollars to replace it.
Catalytic converter thefts have been on the rise during the COVID-19 pandemic, and detectives tell the News4Jax I-TEAM that hundreds have been stolen in Northeast Florida in the past eight months.
For Neil Mosby, it was a Monday morning when he and his team at Trutco fired up their fleet of pest control trucks. Something didn’t sound right.
“As soon as we started those trucks up in the morning, it was very obvious noise,” said Mosby, who manages the locally owned company.
A check of the security cameras at their office on St. Augustine Road showed when the thefts occurred.
“It was probably under 10 minutes,” Mosby said. “They were in and out.”
Ten minutes for 10 catalytic converters. Each truck has two converters, and with five trucks hit, it ended up costing Trutco about $10,000 to replace.
It hurt the small business, and for a moment, it slowed down service.
It’s a problem across the country that’s been spiking during the pandemic. Thieves aren’t just targeting work trucks, they’re hitting everyday vehicles.
“The repair cost, replacement cost, is going to be between $1,500 and $2,000,” said Sonny Williams, a certified master technician at Aaron’s Car Care.
So what is a catalytic converter? It filters the air coming out of an exhaust, using precious metals like rhodium and platinum in a honeycomb. Rhodium, for example, is a hot commodity, which recently jumped to as expensive as $27,000 an ounce.
The I-TEAM pulled records showing that since the beginning of the year, the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office filed 224 reports of catalytic converter thefts. The Clay County Sheriff’s Office noted 56 thefts and the St. Johns County investigators reported at least 17. Notably, records can be hard to find as different agencies classify the crimes differently, usually under the umbrella of grand theft.
“What we’ve seen is sometimes, you know, they’ll make anywhere between $50 to maybe $250 per catalytic converter,” said Todd Blair, special agent with the National Insurance Crime Bureau.
The former Volusia County auto burglary detective said the thieves sell the converters to scrap yards and metal recyclers. By then, it’s too late for the victims who either have to pay out of pocket, or if they have comprehensive insurance, shell out a deductible.
“What we tell people is if you can park your vehicle in a garage, go ahead and park it in garage,” Blair said. “If you have to leave it out in the driveway, you know, if you have security lights and stuff, make sure they’re on. You can buy a anti-theft catalytic converter device.”
The guards can be installed for a few hundred dollars.
Some experts are telling people to engrave their vehicle identification number, or VIN, onto their catalytic converter or spray paint it a bright color to serve as a red flag to metal scrappers.
News4Jax crime and safety expert Ken Jefferson said it’s important to do whatever you can to thwart the thieves.
“It’s a crime of opportunity,” he pointed out. “You’ve got to harden that target. Fence your property -- if it’s a commercial type property, keep it fenced in. Keep an alarm on the fence. Keep surveillance cameras up.”
Trutco trucks are back on the job after a big inconvenience and repair bill.
“We are hiring,” Mosby said. “We can pay you an honest day’s salary. Get a job. Don’t shut us down. Find a legal way and honest way to make money.”
Police are catching people responsible for these crimes. Recently, Jacksonville detectives arrested three people who were all charged in separate catalytic converter thefts.
Investigators said they’re close to making more arrests, but that they need people to be vigilant.
The I-TEAM discovered that Honda Element SUVs and Toyota Prius hybrids were among the most targeted makes and models, next to work trucks. It’s believed that’s because they have two catalytic converters, compared to other vehicles that have one.