KPRC 2 Investigates: Police say thieves targeting catalytic converters at higher rate than ever before

Victims can face thousands of dollars in damage to their vehicles

Thieves are targeting catalytic converters over any other car part at an unprecedented rate in Houston, leaving thousands of dollars of damage behind for the victims.

Houston – Thieves are targeting catalytic converters over any other car part at an unprecedented rate in Houston, leaving thousands of dollars of damage behind for the victims.

Catalytic converters decrease vehicle emissions and have become the prime target of thieves because of the precious metals that are in short supply around the world.

All it takes is a battery powered saw and “in less than five minutes they’re done and gone,” according to Sergeant Tracy Hicks with the Houston Police Department.

A KPRC 2 Investigates review of police data showed the number catalytic converter thefts in the city jumped more than 2,000% since 2019, making them more targeted that tires, rims and tailgates.

In Harris County, there have been 2,160 catalytic converter thefts over the last two years. The suburbs aren’t immune either.

Fort Bend County reports 133 thefts over the last two years.

“It’s very common to see someone stopped at a Starbucks to get a cup of coffee and they walk to their car 15 minutes later and they’ve been a victim,” said Sergeant Daniel Calvillo with the Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Office.

The data reflects that these types of crimes are not dependent on people being parked at home.

Our analysis found that 43% of catalytic converter thefts happen in crowded commercial parking lots, like stores and post offices.

Law enforcement tells KPRC 2 Investigates that regardless of the location of the crime, thieves need a lot of noise to cover the sound of their saws cutting out the parts.

Data shows that most catalytic converter thefts happen between five and six in the afternoon.

That’s because they rely on “big trucks coming by, the siren of an ambulance or just the noise of traffic” to give them cover, according to Hicks.

The victims of these crimes not only have to pay to replace the catalytic converter, but often have to make other repairs.

“They’ll usually take an oxygen sensor...or they cut fuel lines, and any time you take those things, you’re adding to the cost of the repairs,” said Jerry Strybos, the owner of FMG Exhaust in Crosby.

Strybos says he’s seeing four or five vehicles a week coming into his shop with missing catalytic converters.

In the case of Shelley Courtington, she had to take her truck to be repaired twice.

“I got hit in November and they stole the two on the right side,” Courtington said.

When the thieves came back the second time, they didn’t realize she spent more than a thousand dollars on an alarm. Courtington says she chased the thief away before he finished the job, but didn’t see the get-away driver in the process.

“About the time I turned around, he just gunned it and just coming straight-forward, so I bailed in the the dumpsters there,” said Courtington. “He tried to hit me, he was literally going to run me over.”

Data showed that thieves target Toyotas, primarily Tundras, Tacomas and Priuses. That’s because those vehicles have multiple converters with higher concentrations of precious metals. Data shows that Ford and Chevys were second and third most targeted.

Police say people should not confront thieves if they catch them in the act. Hicks says there are ways to make it harder for people to cut out catalytic converters.

Watch a tutorial on some prevention methods here:

Here are some tips on how to prevent catalytic converter thefts.

A New Law

State legislatures and police are hoping a new law will help curb the number of catalytic converter thefts. House Bill 4110 went into effect Sept. 1 and makes buying a catalytic converter a felony. The law also now requires metal recycling entities to obtain a litany of documentation from sellers, including the person’s thumbprint. You can read the law here.

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