Catalytic converter thefts creep up
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The theft of catalytic converters is slowly increasing just months after it plummeted thanks to a new law, enforcement crackdown and tracking program.
“There was a lull there for a while, but the last two months, it’s picking up,” said Les Rattai, manager of J Maxx Collision & Glass in Fort Garry.
“Just over the last little bit, we’ve had a few towed in or people have been driving them in.”
The part, which reduces emissions and noise from a vehicle’s exhaust system, contains precious metals. Thieves cut it out from underneath the vehicle and sell it to scrapyards for $100 to $500. The replacement cost is $1,500 to $2,000.
Rattai’s experience is evident in the numbers: in Winnipeg, 94 thefts were reported in December, 86 in November, and 48 in October.
Winnipeg police spokeswoman Const. Dani McKinnon said the service doesn’t want to speculate about why the number of reported thefts is creeping up because it’s likely due to multiple factors, but she noted thieves might still be selling the parts to scrap vendors, contrary to the new provincial legislation.
The number of thefts dropped in the summer amid a police crackdown.
Last June, Winnipeg police raided a scrapyard in the Rural Municipality of Springfield and charged three men with allegedly trading in large quantities of stolen converters. The following month, new scrap metal legislation took effect that requires dealers to record transaction details, keep the records for two years and provide them to police upon request.
The new provincial law prohibits cash transactions over $50 while scrap metal recyclers who don’t follow the rules can be fined up to $15,000 for a first offence and $50,000 for second and subsequent offences.
The measures had an instant effect: incidents of theft dropped to 29 in August and 22 in September — a far cry from 188 thefts in January of that year.
Police say 1,801 catalytic converters were stolen in 2022, compared with 1,564 in 2021 and 284 in 2020.
Rattai noted that at the height of the thefts, his shop would get one to five damaged vehicles a week. Now, it repairs one vehicle every two to three weeks.
“These (catalytic converters) got to be going somewhere… someone’s buying them. That’s why they keep doing it. If they couldn’t sell them, they would stop,” said Rattai.
“Somehow, (police) have got to get to the root.”
He noted backlogs at MPI — which inspects and issues repair estimates in relation to catalytic converter theft claims — and at auto-repair shops, mean a customer can often expect to be without a vehicle for a month.
Crime Stoppers, using cash from the province’s criminal property forfeiture fund, has outfitted at least 68 auto shops and dealerships in the province with etching equipment since last summer.
The businesses engrave the vehicle identification number on its catalytic converter, and spray it with florescent paint, making it easily traceable. The service is free.
Police spokeswoman McKinnon said she encourages vehicle owners to take part in the engraving program.
A provincial spokesperson said “no further action is planned” to address the thefts right now, adding that the etching campaign and other efforts “continue to have the desired impact.”
Erik Pindera reports for the city desk, with a particular focus on crime and justice.