LOS ANGELES — Ever since two thieves stole the catalytic converter from Jenelle Jones’ Prius last year, she’s been on high alert.

“I just couldn’t get down there fast enough,” Jones said. “Now I sleep in my clothes on the sofa, right by the door, just in case.”

What You Need To Know

  • The LAPD warns that catalytic converter thefts increased by 300% since the start of the pandemic

  • A catalytic converter contains precious metals, like rhodium, which convert harmful gases from a car’s exhaust system

  • The metals inside a catalytic converter are worth around $300 from scrap dealers and metal recyclers, according to the LAPD

  • One way to deter thieves is by etching a VIN on a catalytic converter to help law enforcement establish that the part is stolen

Jones said it cost $3,500 to replace, and police haven’t caught them yet. But on April 1, her car was targeted again, and it was caught on camera.

“When I ran downstairs, there was smoke from the saw, and then I saw the guy,” she said. “He was in a silver car, and he parked right in back of my car.”

Jones noted the thief cut out the part in less than two minutes.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, catalytic converter thefts have gone up by 300% across Los Angeles, according to LAPD Detective Michael Ventura. He said that’s because of the precious metals inside, like rhodium, which convert harmful gases from a car’s exhaust system.

“Something that doesn’t look like much has a tremendous (impact) on our air quality,” he said. “But the thieves know it’s the stuff in there that does the magic that provides the value. It’s sad but true that, because of the Russia-Ukraine war, the precious metal prices have gone up.”

Ventura explained how the metals inside a catalytic converter can fetch about $300 from scrap dealers and metal recyclers, but LAPD budget cuts have led to fewer officers cracking down on sales of stolen auto parts.

However, Ventura said one method vehicle owners can deter thieves — who can cut the part out in 60 seconds — is by getting a VIN, or vehicle identification number, etched into the catalytic converter, which the LAPD recently offered for free.

The VIN can help law enforcement prove that a catalytic converter is stolen.

“If there is a number that is applied here, I can now say that this is stolen property,” Ventura said while pointing to a catalytic converter. “If there is no number that is here, they can easily say, ‘Hey, I found these things on the street.’”

Ventura said installing a metal shield or cage over the catalytic converter may also deter thieves.

“What we’re trying to do is to make an impact,” he said. “Take the profit away and try to see if there is a way for us to deter it through prevention, through education and then most importantly, that criminal justice portion, we are trying to get it ramped up where people are actually going to jail.”

There is state legislation in the works to help curb the rise in catalytic converter thefts. State Sen. Anthony Portantino and Sen. Tom Umberg co-authored Senate Bill 986, which would prohibit car dealers from selling a new vehicle unless a VIN was etched into the catalytic converter.

The bill would also stop recyclers from accepting cash for used catalytic converters and only accept a payment method that can be traced, such as a credit card. SB 986 is scheduled to be heard in the Senate Public Safety Committee on April 26.