When your car burns fuel to run, it produces harmful toxins which are released into the environment. A catalytic converter is a metal device attached to the bottom of your car which makes those harmful toxins… less harmful. A catalytic converter also helps the car run more efficiently. Seems simple, right?
The only problem is, for a catalytic converter to make your car better for the environment, it needs to convert those harmful toxins into cleaner toxins for the air. To do this, it needs three precious metals which will “change” the bad toxins into good toxins. These three precious metals are: rhodium, palladium, and platinum.
Rhodium, palladium, and platinum are the “kings” of scrap metal and also the most expensive scrap metal available. All three of these metals have seen enormous price spikes since COVID-19 caused supply shortages across the world. Palladium, for example, has gone up from $1,000/ounce to $4,000/oz in a matter of a few years. A single ounce of platinum could fetch up to $20,000.
Due to the rising prices of these metals, new catalytic converters are very expensive, costing upwards of $3,000-$5,000 to install in some cars. This has created a thriving black market for secondary sales and scrap metal sales.
Catalytic Converter Thefts Are Skyrocketing
In 2018, there were 1,300 catalytic converter theft claims filed. Two years later, in 2020, this number had risen to 14,000 claims. In October of 2022, there had already been a startling 33,000 catalytic converter theft claims filed to insurance companies.
Why are thieves so intent on stealing these converters? First, they are easy and quick to remove. Thieves will slide underneath a car and cut off the catalytic converter with a battery powered saw or unscrew it with a wrench. This whole process will take them only around 120 seconds if they know what they are doing. It will be noisy but only for a short period of time. Many thieves even do it in broad daylight because it is so quick to do. They can then fetch between $700-$1,000 for these catalytic converters when working with shady scrap metal dealers. Some thieves are willing to sell them for as low as $100 however. Unfortunately, this quick money scheme will then cost the car owner 10x what it was sold for to repair their car and replace the converter.
Criminal Penalties for Catalytic Converter Theft in Illinois
Illinois, and Chicago in particular, has the highest number of claims for catalytic converter theft in the country right now. You can’t get around this problem by simply not having a catalytic converter. In Illinois, it will be needed to pass mandatory emissions testing in Illinois too (Illinois is one of the strictest states that requires mandatory emissions testing).
Those who are caught stealing a catalytic converter may be charged with a wide range of different theft crimes. The charge will be based off how much the catalytic converter itself is worth. It could be charged as a Class A misdemeanor if the converter is worth less than $500 or a class 3 felony if the converter is worth over $500. Even if you do not take the whole car, just stealing the converter could trigger a class 2 felony charge punishable by between 3 and 7 years in prison because it is considered an “essential part” of the automobile.
Illinois House Bill 107 was just enacted and it places a much larger burden on the buyers of recyclable metal. The legislature believes this Bill is the best chance they have to totally curb almost all theft of catalytic converters in the future. The Bill makes it a crime for a scrap metal dealer to purchase a used catalytic converter for over $100 in cash. The converter must be attached to an actual car before it is removed and sold to a secondary dealer, and the dealer must take a picture of the car with the converter attached. Scrap metal dealers must also keep records of a catalytic converter sellers’ name, license number (including address), and a photograph or video of the seller. They must enter into an official agreement with the seller which contains information about the VIN number of the original car, invoice number, stock number, and date of purchase of each catalytic converter. They must also get a signed statement from the seller that the catalytic converter itself is not stolen. The scrap metal dealer must then keep these records for at least three years.
Any violation of these procedures will constitute a class A misdemeanor for a first offense punishable by up to 364 days in prison and up to a $2,500 fine. A second offense will be charged as a Class 4 felony punishable by not less than one year and not more than three years in prison. Each day the offense continues will constitute a new crime and consequently a new charge. Any metal obtained not in accordance with the Act will be subject to immediate forfeiture. The Act also created a Recyclable Metals Task Force to conduct yearly reviews of the efficacy of these laws and make necessary changes. Law enforcement in Illinois has indicated they will be taking enforcement of these new laws very seriously and conducting extensive undercover operations to ensure compliance.
How Can You Keep Your Car Safe from Theft?
There are a few simple ways to keep your catalytic converter safe and make your car less appealable to thieves:
- Park in a bright, well-lit spot and store your car in a garage when possible
- Keep your security sensors on to warn would-be criminals that a loud alarm may sound off
- Install an anti-theft mechanism like a lock on your catalytic converter or a metal shield to house it in
- Consider getting your catalytic converter professionally welded to your car to make it harder to detach
- Get insurance coverage for catalytic converter theft
- Know which cars are targeted the most: you are especially at risk if you drive a Prius, Lexus SUV, Honda Accord, or Tacoma as thieves prefer these converters due to more precious metals being in them than other cars.
- Some police departments in Chicago and Illinois are now hosting free events to get your catalytic converter spray painted a bright neon color like yellow or pink to deter theft. This unique crime fighting strategy is relatively new and some think it may not be the best use of police resources.
Talk to one of our experienced criminal attorneys
The Chicago criminal defense lawyers of Mitchell S. Sexner & Associates LLC have defended many hundreds of theft charges on behalf of criminal defendants, and we have seen how a criminal charge such as this can damage not only your life, but also your good reputation.
If you are being accused of theft or theft of a motor vehicle in Illinois, you need to talk about your case with a knowledgeable, experienced criminal defense attorney. Contact Mitchell S. Sexner & Associates LLC today at (312) 644-0444 for a free consultation.