Technology is being used to curb the tampering and theft of catalytic converters from vehicles.
A recent poll puts Washington at the top of a dubious list. According to State Farm, Washington ranks as the fourth most common catalyst theft state. Exhaust gas catalytic converters have coveted precious metals and can lead to expensive repair costs. The problem has also sparked a wave of theft and vandalism. Car owners can often pay thousands of dollars in repairs, while car dealers are in a similar situation, as a damaged vehicle cannot be sold until repairs are made, allowing the cost to be passed on to consumers.
To help the dealers, ACV Auctions, an online car auction company, has developed proprietary technology to help the dealers. The situation surrounding catalytic converters has forced many parties to find new and creative ways to combat the loss of systems through theft. ACV Auctions has developed what they call a “virtual lift system” that scans the bottom of the vehicle and gives a clear picture of the condition of the catalytic converter. Michael Pokora, ACV’s Senior Director of Research and Development, spoke to KIRO 7 and said the technology helps dealerships get a true assessment of vehicle health and allows dealerships to act accordingly. It could also prevent expensive repair costs for dealers and prevent those costs from being passed on to consumers.
However, this is only a tool. KIRO 7 has seen other ways groups try to combat and prevent catalyst theft. In October, Pierce County law enforcement, auto dealers and owners attended an event where catalytic converters were engraved with vehicle identification numbers, or VINs. The logic is that writing in the ID number would make the device more risky to steal and also make it harder to sell the parts as it has a clear link to a vehicle owned by an individual or dealer.
The issue of catalytic converter theft or vandalism has also led to violence. In Newcastle, King County Sheriff’s Deputies said last July a man exchanged gunshots with people allegedly dressing up an apartment complex for catalytic converters. The man saw the group and confronted them, then one of the suspects opened fire and shot the man dead, according to MPs. This man returned fire and eventually hit one of the suspects.
For ACV Auctions, trying to contain concerns about catalytic converters starts with dealers buying vehicles wholesale. Pokora said the company’s proprietary technology, which maps the bottom of vehicles and can detect any catalytic converter failures, protects consumers and dealers involved in vehicle sales. “By helping dealers to purchase used inventory, it helps consumers understand the condition of emissions systems in vehicles; Because they receive inventory for resale to consumers, they are aware of the condition of the catalyst,” Pokora said. When asked if repair costs could be passed on from dealers to consumers, Pokora acknowledged that sometimes they are and repairs can cost thousands of dollars. He stressed that emissions laws mandate cars with catalytic converters, meaning repairs are mandatory at all costs.
In July, Washington enacted new legislation to curb catalytic converter theft. One aspect of the law requires junkyards and auto breakers to verify proof of ownership of the items. Following this legislation, King County Councilman Reagan Dunn proposed an awareness campaign about catalytic converter thefts. In a statement about his proposal, posted on King County’s website last summer, Dunn cited statistics on the matter in the county. In King County alone, the frequency of stolen catalytic converters skyrocketed 12,855% between 2019 and 2021, according to data from the King County Sheriff’s Office.