PRECIOUS METAL: Soaring prices fuel black market catalytic converter thefts in East Texas

Special Reports

TYLER, Texas (KETK) – The hottest ticket for car thieves right now is not quite the cars themselves, but something underneath. Catalytic converter theft is on the rise, not only in East Texas but across the nation.

The catalytic converter is a precious piece of metal underneath your car. It is designed to burn hydrocarbons and other toxic ingredients stemming from the exhaust. It was implemented back in 1975 by the Environmental Protection Agency in order to protect the environment. Today, it’s an absolute necessity to pass state inspections.

The soaring prices of the metal within the critical emissions-control device are catching the eyes of criminals looking to make a quick buck, triggering a black market of theft in East Texas. Catalytic converters are made up of rhodium, platinum, and palladium; a value considered 30 times as rare as gold. “Any kind of metal, tin, steel, the value’s going up right now. It’s kind of high,” said Waggoner.

It’s a crime thieves continue to pull off in a matter of seconds. “They’re just cutting them off the cars in a few minutes, and they’re taking them to the scrapyard. And, they’re getting scrap value,” said Wayne Waggoner with Texas Muffler and Automotive in Lufkin. Thieves then exchange converters for quick cash, leaving victims with a hefty dent in their wallets.

“Converters have what is used to process hydrocarbons, these toxic materials. They use palladium, platinum, and rhodium… Those are the three primary ingredients and metals they’re using. Platinum, I think today, is $1,254 an ounce.”

WAYNE WAGGONER, OWNER OF TEXAS MUFFLER AND AUTOMOTIVE

In the past month, a Lufkin man was charged with stealing catalytic converters from church vans. Bradley Brown, 37, was arrested after he was caught by a police officer running from the parking lot of the Abundant Life United Methodist Church, 1715 Sayer St., at 3:45 a.m., said information from the city. “I was shocked, but then I remembered that I had heard about how that was going on in other places,” said Pastor David Briggs.  

“I was very frustrated…those two vans are important. They’re the transportation for everything that we do.” 

David briggs, pastor of abundant life united methodist church

The officer went to the church in response to a caller saying a suspicious person was apparently cutting something off a church van. The man ran from the parking lot into nearby woods. A short time later, he came out of the woods and was surrounded by officers.

Police took three catalytic converters as evidence, a battery charger, and a Dewalt brand power saw found outside the church. Brown was charged with theft and evading arrest.

This is just one incident, but if your car is outside. It’s a target.

Pastor Tony Pierce with New Hope Baptist Church in Ore City is yet another victim. At this point, we’re about $900 in and the van is still not fixed,” said Pierce.

A thief attempted to steal the catalytic converters off of his two church vans as well, but it was a failed attempt. Regardless, the felon left behind costly damages that Pierce is in the process of fixing. “It’s gonna take some more money. We still have people looking at the van,” said Pierce.  

“It doesn’t seem like a resource problem, it just seems like a morality problem.” 

tony pierce, pastor of new hope baptist church

At Texas Muffler and Automotive in Lufkin, mechanics have been busy lately, very busy.

“Well, there’s been a lot of people coming in lately. Just this past week, I probably had 6 different vehicles that had catalytic converters stolen on them,” said Waggoner.  

The cost of replacing one can cost anywhere from $300 to more than $3,000, depending on the make and model.

Preventative Measures

There are some simple and affordable solutions to combat this growing nationwide issue, many of them marketed online.

Catstrap is one example. The device “contains multiple hidden Aircraft-grade steel cables hidden within a high-temperature casing that is attached to your Catalytic Converter and exhaust system.” It essentially acts as an obstacle making the crime difficult and time-consuming to perform.

There are also metal plates that function as a shield, blocking the pipes from crooks. There are even do it yourself inventions creating barriers to make the catalytic converter less accessible.

All three options are arguably a worthwhile price to pay to avoid a much larger financial burden, one that’s left many East Texas drivers fuming.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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