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Catalytic converter thefts skyrocket in Utah, lawmakers say penalties need to be more severe

A catalytic converter, being demonstrated during a press conference at the Utah Trucking Association headquarters in West Valley. Catalytic converter thefts are becoming a big problem, according to business leaders and lawmakers. (Photo: Paul Nelson)

SALT LAKE COUNTY — Catalytic converter thefts have always been an annoyance, but some business analysts and lawmakers say the problem has grown out of control.  They’re pushing a bill that would give harsher penalties to the people caught stealing them. 

For an experienced thief, catalytic converters can reportedly be quite easy to steal.  Markosian Auto General Manager John Kirkland says thieves don’t need a lot of time, either.  One car on his lot was targeted last weekend.

“On Sunday, at five o’clock in the morning at our Taylorsville location, two individuals went in, slid underneath a Dodge Ram pick-up truck, got the ‘cat,’ took it and were off the lot in four minutes,” Kirkland said.

(Inside this converter are trace amounts of precious metals like rhodium, palladium and platinum. Analysts say the precious metals are what the thieves are really after. Photo: Paul Nelson)

Because they’re so easy to take, business analysts say thieves are becoming more brazen… stealing them from crowded parking lots and in broad daylight.  Thieves get a few hundred dollars per converter because of the trace amounts of precious metals inside.  However, they can cost anywhere from $1,500 to $4,500 to repair, and that’s if you can even purchase one.

Representative Ryan Wilcox said, “Part of the problem we have now is, because this has happened so much, we have a nationwide shortage of catalytic converters.”

Data from the Utah Attorney General’s Office shows converter thefts spiked 600 percent from 2019 to 2020 across the state, and analysts say we’re on track to see that same heightened number of thefts through 2021.  Senator Karen Mayne says the costs are too much for many people to bear.

“Our businesses cannot sustain this loss.  Our citizens cannot sustain this loss,” Mayne said.

Mayne says she’s working with Wilcox on a new bill that would create new ways to protect converters from being stolen, track them down once they have been and increase the penalties for those caught doing it.  Lawmakers aren’t certain, yet, what those increased penalties would be for catalytic converter thefts, but Mayne says they have to be severe.

She said, “This is absolutely a cancer in our community.  I believe it is that serious.”

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