Roy Bruner said he gets about 20 to 30 calls a week to replace stolen catalytic converters at his north side shop.
“I had a Prius, I put a new converter on it on a Thursday or Friday, and the next Monday he came in and they’d stolen it again,” Bruner said.
The number of catalytic converter thefts nearly quadrupled nationally between December 2019 and December 2020, according to a March 2021 report from the National Insurance Crime Bureau. In Fort Worth, there were 1,398 catalytic converter in the first nine months of 2021, according to a report from the Fort Worth Police Department. That’s less than the 2019 and 2020 national averages.
The West Division, which includes the area south of Interstate 30 and west of Henderson Street, had the most with 350 thefts. The Northwest Division, north of White Settlement Road, had the fewest with 173.
Erik Lavigne, a detective with the Fort Worth Police Department, told the City Council last week that educating the public on which cars are bigger targets could help prevent theft. He mentioned the Toyota Tundra, Toyota Prius, Honda Element and Ford F-250 as a few of the models cars targeted by thieves. Trucks with a high clearance are an easy target because thieves can slip under the vehicle and cut off the converter without having to jack it off the ground.
The Texas Legislature passed a bill in July making it a felony to sell a catalytic converter without proof of what vehicle it came from. There are two misdemeanors related to catalytic converter theft: acting as an unlicensed metal recycler and trying to buy “regulated metals” from unlicensed dealers.
These rules are meant to crack down on the shops buying stolen parts, Lavigne said, but there are no laws enabling police to stop or arrest someone for possessing a stolen catalytic converter. District 4 council member Cary Moon floated the idea of a city ordinance that would fine those in possession of a catalytic converter that’s not linked to their car.
Catalytic converters help reduce pollution by cleaning the engine exhaust. Their value comes from the precious metals inside, said Jesse Caldera, general manager for Dos Amigos Pull N Save Auto Parts in Fort Worth. Prius catalytic converters can be worth as much as $1,200 each because they contain higher quantities of precious metals like rhodium and platinum.
Thieves sell to buyers who take the converters to a smelter who can break the converter apart and separate the precious metals, Caldera said. An ounce of platinum is worth just over $1,000 according to Bloomberg.
Thieves can remove a catalytic converter in as little as a minute using a power saw, Deputy Chief Greg Weathers told the City Council. He said the only way to trace a stolen catalytic converter is to match the cut to the car.
One of Mary Ayala’s customers at Stars Muffler Shop in Fort Worth had the catalytic converter stolen off his box truck three times, she said. The shop helped him weld a metal bar across the bottom to prevent future thefts.
“We haven’t seen him for that since,” Ayala said.