Catalytic converter theft has skyrocketed in recent months as organized groups of thieves continue to illegally cut these devices out of cars, SUVs, and rental trucks at an increasingly alarming rate.


While this has been an ongoing issue for several years, thefts have increased exponentially throughout the recent pandemic period.

Penske's corporate security team is now spearheading a significant outreach program to law enforcement at the city, state and federal levels and cooperating with various catalytic converter theft task forces in hotspots around the country.

"We're also undertaking an aggressive effort to use a new etching technology and exploring other methods to better track stolen catalytic converters within our expansive fleet of trucks," said Scott Brunner, vice president of Security at Penske Transportation Solutions.

Catalytic Converter Thefts by the Numbers

Catalytic converters are emission control devices used on vehicles including Penske's rental trucks that help reduce air pollution.

Thieves are stealing these devices because they often contain high-value metals such as rhodium, platinum and palladium. Once removed and stolen, these devices are then sold by thieves to metal recycling and scrap yards netting the thieves a hefty payday.

"Catalytic converter theft is an increasing problem for consumers and businesses," Brunner said. "It's not a victimless crime. The theft of these devices can cause customers great inconvenience, disables vehicles for repairs, and drives up costs for consumers."

A recent State Farm report examined catalytic converter theft claims from July 1, 2020 to June 30, 2021, and found thefts grew nearly 293% nationwide, representing more than 18,000 instances.

Compared with the same time period just a year earlier, theft reports from the last half of 2019 to the first half of 2020 numbered just above 4,500.

State Farm reported the total paid to customers during the most recent 12-month period was more than $33.7 million. In the previous 12-month period it was slightly below $9 million.

When it comes to claims, California leads the way with more than 3 out of 10 claims being filed in the state. Texas is second, with roughly 1 out of 10 claims, followed by Minnesota, Washington and Illinois, according to State Farm's examination of data from the first half of 2021.

While the value of metals contained in catalytic converters is a driver of the increase in thefts, the National Insurance Crime Bureau linked the thefts to the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We have seen a significant increase during the pandemic. It's an opportunistic crime. As the value of the precious metals contained within the catalytic converters continues to increase, so do the number of thefts of these devices," said David Glawe. NICB president and CEO. "There is a clear connection between times of crisis, limited resources, and disruption of the supply chain that drives investors towards these precious metals."

As of the end of February 2021, 18 states – Arkansas, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, and West Virginia – are evaluating potential legislative actions to curb the theft problem, according to the NICB.

Protecting Your Fleet

Penske Truck Leasing recommends all fleet operators take note of this trend and to take protective measures including:

  • Properly secure vehicles
  • Park in well-lit areas
  • Use perimeter fencing when vehicles are domiciled overnight
  • Invest in parking lot video surveillance
  • Train drivers to look for signs related to theft or tampering during their pre-trip and post-trip vehicle inspections
  • Inspect the catalytic converter area often
  • Report catalytic converter theft to law enforcement immediately

By "Move Ahead" Staff