Catalytic converter thefts have been on the rise for quite some time. As it turns out, filling the lowest-hanging, least secure part of a motor vehicle with components to make an Iron Man suit makes for an attractive proposition to thieves. Who would’ve guessed?
One Los Angeles County official thinks he’s found a solution. George Gascón, District Attorney for Los Angeles County, has reached out to Honda, Toyota, Ford, and General Motors about theft deterrent solutions for catalytic converters.
Each letter is largely the same, so here’s the one he sent to GM:
If you can’t view the embedded image, we’ve transcribed its text below:
Dear Mr. Glidden and Ms. Cathcart Chaplin:
I write to you about a serious issue that is harming vehicle owners throughout the United States and specifically Los Angeles County. Catalytic converter thefts are on the rise. So far this year more than 20,000 catalytic converter thefts have occurred in Los Angeles County alone, according to estimates. These thefts are growing exponentially, particularly because catalytic converters are easy to steal and thieves can quickly turn them into cash.
The lack of a safety or defense mechanism on catalytic converters make them an inviting target for thieves. Additionally, the lack of identifying markers on catalytic converters makes it difficult to provide in court that they were stolen. The absence of such safeguards leads to unwanted expenses for vehicle owners, higher insurance claims and delays for those seeking replacement parts. As I’m sure you know, catalytic converter thefts have particularly affected hybrid car owners.
These thefts are negatively affecting your corporation and your customers.
I believe we can work together to find a solution to this nationwide problem. We would like to sit down with you and your team to develop creative and inexpensive solutions to substantially prevent these crimes from occurring and reduce the likelihood of victimization in Los Angeles County and the rest of the nation. We believe that by working together we can make a difference.
I look forward to hearing from you
Los Angeles District Attorney
Gascón proposes two solutions: A vague “safety or defense mechanism” option, or markings on each cat to allow tracking after theft. Each of these makes sense at a first glance, but neither holds up very far beyond that.
The “safety or defense mechanism” is something that’s been tried before. You can go out right now and buy a Cat Clamp for $176 that will tie your catalytic converter to hard-mounted parts of your chassis. Ask anyone who’s ever shopped for motorcycle locks, however, and you’ll hear the same thing: adding braided cable will slow a thief down, but it won’t stop a determined cat burglar.
As for the markings, tracking stolen cats, you run into hiccups with the execution. Marking every cat with some invisible ink, then stationing police at scrap yards to check incoming metal, becomes an enormous undertaking. Even with all that, it’s relatively easy to hollow out a cat and separate the valuable materials inside from their marked shell.
General Motors, it seems, had similar thoughts. They even replied to Gascón, telling him as much:
You can read the full transcription below:
Dear Mr. Gascón
Thank you for your letter dated June 28, 2021 inquiring about the possibilities of collaborating with General Motors to develop a solution to address the growing nationwide problem of catalytic converter theft. We trust that you have directed similar letters to the other major vehicle manufacturers as well, as this issue impacts vehicles produced by every manufacturer of internal combustion powered vehicles.
We agree that catalytic converter theft is a serious problem. While the additional “safety and defense” mechanisms may be helpful deterrents, or for purposes of identification after a the has occurred, they are neither the solution nor do they address the root cause of the problem — criminal demand. As with any crime, applying deterrents typically only results in temporary slow-down in criminal activity while the thieves determine the fastest way to defeat the deterrent. “Safety and defense mechanisms” are merely the temporary “band-aids” that ultimately do not address the root cause of the problem. Rather than reduce the expenses to consumers, these efforts will likely increase overall vehicle purchase and repair costs, while not providing any guarantee that catalytic converter thefts will be prevented.
As this is a complicated nationwide problem involving numerous stakeholders, including vehicle manufacturers, insurance companies, new and used car dealers, law enforcement, and scrap/recycling businesses, we believe the most effective solution is best developed through the collaborative efforts already underway between the various industry trade associations. Conversations are currently taking place with the International Association of Auto Theft Investigators (IAATI), the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA), the state Automobile Trade Association Executives (ATAE), and the Alliance for Automotive Innovation (AFAI). These groups represent all previously mentioned stakeholder groups and more, and we believe they are best positioned to help develop a meaningful solution to this problem. If you would like more information on how to contact these organizations, or to participate in their discussions, we are happy to provide the appropriate contact information upon your request.
Jason P. Klingensmith
Jason Klingensmith, Assistant General Counsel at GM, makes some good points. Rather than scrambling to address the methods through which catalytic converters are stolen, he says it would be more effective to address the root causes of theft — like income inequality or unemployment — that may be more directly in the District Attorney’s wheelhouse.