Catalytic converter thefts are up. Way up. Across the whole nation, and Puget Sound is no exception.

In Seattle alone, police said there were 514 cases of catalytic converter theft last year with thefts surging in 2021.

In King County, 11 such thefts were reported in all of 2019, according to Sgt. Tim Meyer of the King County Sheriff’s Office. Then 11 in the first quarter of 2020.

By the fourth quarter of last year, however, that number had reached 174, and this year there were 172 catalytic-converter thefts reported in the first quarter and 241 reported to date, he said.

Catalytic converter thefts reported to the King County Sheriff’s Office since 2019. (Courtesy of the King County Sheriff’s Office)

“From May 2019 to April 2020, we had 16 claims related to catalytic-converter thefts. One year later during the same period (May 2020 to April 2021) the number of claims went up to 361, a 2,156% increase,” said Derek Wing, a spokesperson for Seattle-based PEMCO Insurance.

The thieves are fast, and catalytic converters don’t have VINs, so even if someone is caught with six of them, it can be hard to make an arrest, he said.

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“It’s a stubborn crime,” Meyer said, “and to address it we will probably need help from lawmakers.”

Legislators have been asked in the past to crack down on scrap-metal dealers and pawn brokers to squash the market for stolen goods, most recently in Olympia during a stretch of rampant copper wire thefts.

But state Sen. Jamie Pedersen, the chair of the Law and Justice Committee, said there had been no efforts in Olympia this past legislative session to impose additional restrictions on scrap-metal dealers and that the next opportunity to do so would be in the 2022 legislative session.

According to Seattle police, thieves target catalytic converters, emissions-control devices that are part of most vehicles’ exhaust systems, for their precious metals: platinum, palladium and rhodium, which have been soaring in value.

They’re lightweight and an experienced thief can steal one in less than two minutes from a parked vehicle by using either a wrench for converters bolted on the car or a battery-powered saw on those that are welded onto the vehicle.

Priuses and V-10 Ford trucks are the vehicles hit most often in King County, but others have been targeted as well, said Meyer.

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Thieves sell the stolen converters for quick cash, typically around $100 to $200 while the cost to replace the part is usually in the thousands.

The Tacoma Police Department offered these tips to reduce your chance of being a victim:

●  Know if you’re a target — Toyota Priuses, trucks and SUVs, which are easier for thieves to slide under, are the primary targets in Tacoma.

●  Secure your vehicle in a locked garage. Set motion-sensitive lights and park in your driveway or in a brightly lit area in front of your home if you don’t have a garage.

●  Install a catalytic converter anti-theft device. Your mechanic or a search of the internet can show you what devices are available, costs and installation requirements.

●  Paint your catalytic converter with a high temperature fluorescent paint and etch your vehicle’s identification number on the painted surface. This makes it traceable and more easily identifiable.

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● Set an alarm or camera. You can turn up the sensitivity of your car alarm so that it goes off if thieves jostle your car. A motion sensitive dash cam can alert you to the theft and possibly record suspect information. 

● Check your vehicle frequently if your vehicle belongs to a group, business or church that only uses the vehicle on certain days.

● Check with your car insurance. Comprehensive insurance covers stolen auto parts. Find out if you will be covered and what your deductible amount will be before a theft.