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  A huge increase in thefts of catalytic converters has hit the nation   It took two minutes - someone had slid under my car sawed off my Catalytic Converter.  


Story by Kent Masterson - The Oregon Herald
Published on Tuesday May 11, 2021 - 1:10 AM
 
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The theft of catalytic converters has increased at a national level and Battle Ground has not escaped the trend. The Battle Ground Police Department wants you to know that this criminal activity is increasing in our community, how you can to deter theft from your vehicle, what to watch for and how to report suspicious activity.

Catalytic converters are expensive components of a vehicle's exhaust system for the precious elements they contain. Every vehicle has a catalytic converter and every vehicle is a potential target. The cost to replace a converter can range from $600 to $3,000.

The thefts occur all hours of the day and night and take very little time – anywhere from one to five minutes. Thieves access the underside of a vehicle - with or without a car jack - and with the use of a reciprocating saw, quickly remove the catalytic converter. The thief will walk away with the converter, which looks like a muffler, to an accomplice waiting in a nearby parked but running vehicle.

These criminals will drive a neighborhood multiple times, choosing the easiest vehicle to target. Victims may not know the theft has occurred until they start their car and it makes a sound as if there is no muffler.

Lifted vehicles, that do not need a jack for access, tend to be most targeted, but any vehicle is subject to theft. There are ways, however, you can deter these criminals:

  • If you park outside, do so in a well-lit area.
  • Park close to a curb or another vehicle, making it difficult to place a jack under your vehicle
  • Consider purchasing and installing an anti-theft device
  • Get to know your neighbors so it's easier to recognize people who may not belong in the neighborhood

The Battle Ground Police Department asks that you be alert to the signs of catalytic converter theft and report suspicious activity immediately by calling 9-1-1.  If you find you are a victim or become aware of suspicious activity after the fact, please call 3-1-1.  Awareness and information sharing gives law enforcement the tools they need to prevent and solve crimes, and protect our community.  

BACKGROUND

A catalytic converter is an exhaust emission control device that reduces toxic gases and pollutants in exhaust gas from an internal combustion engine into less-toxic pollutants by catalyzing a redox reaction . Catalytic converters are usually used with internal combustion engines fueled by either gasoline or diesel—including lean-burn engines as well as kerosene heaters and stoves.

The first widespread introduction of catalytic converters was in the United States automobile market. To comply with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's stricter regulation of exhaust emissions, most gasoline-powered vehicles starting with the 1975 model year are equipped with catalytic converters. These 'two-wa'y converters combine oxygen with carbon monoxide and unburned hydrocarbons to produce carbon dioxide and water . In 1981, two-way catalytic converters were rendered obsolete by 'three-wa'y converters that also reduce oxides of nitrogen ; however, two-way converters are still used for lean-burn engines. This is because three-way-converters require either rich or stoichiometric combustion to successfully reduce NO x.

Although catalytic converters are most commonly applied to exhaust systems in automobiles, they are also used on electrical generators, forklifts, mining equipment, trucks, buses, locomotives, motorcycles, and on ships. They are even used on some wood stoves to control emissions. This is usually in response to government regulation, either through direct environmental regulation or through health and safety regulations.

Catalytic converter prototypes were first designed in France at the end of the 19th century, when only a few thousand 'oil cars' were on the roads; it was constituted of an inert material coated with platinum, iridium, and palladium, sealed into a double metallic cylinder.

A few decades later, a catalytic converter was patented by Eugene Houdry, a French mechanical engineer and expert in catalytic oil refining, who moved to the United States in 1930. When the results of early studies of smog in Los Angeles were published, Houdry became concerned about the role of smokestack exhaust and automobile exhaust in air pollution and founded a company called Oxy-Catalyst. Houdry first developed catalytic converters for smokestacks called 'cats' for short, and later developed catalytic converters for warehouse forklifts that used low grade, unleaded gasoline. In the mid-1950s, he began research to develop catalytic converters for gasoline engines used on cars. He was awarded United States Patent 2,742,437 for his work.

Catalytic converters were further developed by a series of engineers including Carl D. Keith, John J. Mooney, Antonio Eleazar, and Phillip Messina at Engelhard Corporation, creating the first production catalytic converter in 1973.

The first widespread introduction of catalytic converters was in the United States automobile market. To comply with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's new regulation of exhaust emissions, most gasoline-powered vehicles starting with the 1975 model year are equipped with catalytic converters. These 'two-wa'y converters combined oxygen with carbon monoxide and unburned hydrocarbons to produce carbon dioxide and water . These stringent emission control regulations forced the removal of the antiknock agent tetraethyl lead from automotive gasoline, to reduce lead in the air. Lead is a catalyst poison and would effectively destroy a catalytic converter by coating the catalyst's surface. Requiring the removal of lead allowed the use of catalytic converters to meet the other emission standards in the regulations.

William C. Pfefferle developed a catalytic combustor for gas turbines in the early 1970s, allowing combustion without significant formation of nitrogen oxides and carbon monoxide.

The catalytic converter's construction is as follows:

The catalyst support or substrate. For automotive catalytic converters, the core is usually a ceramic monolith that has a honeycomb structure . Metallic foil monoliths made of Kanthal are used in applications where particularly high heat resistance is required. The substrate is structured to produce a large surface area. The cordierite ceramic substrate used in most catalytic converters was invented by Rodney Bagley, Irwin Lachman, and Ronald Lewis at Corning Glass, for which they were inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2002.

The washcoat. A washcoat is a carrier for the catalytic materials and is used to disperse the materials over a large surface area. Aluminum oxide, titanium dioxide, silicon dioxide, or a mixture of silica and alumina can be used. The catalytic materials are suspended in the washcoat prior to applying to the core. Washcoat materials are selected to form a rough, irregular surface, which increases the surface area compared to the smooth surface of the bare substrate.

Ceria or ceria-zirconia. These oxides are mainly added as oxygen storage promoters.

The catalyst itself is most often a mix of precious metals, mostly from the platinum group. Platinum is the most active catalyst and is widely used, but is not suitable for all applications because of unwanted additional reactions and high cost. Palladium and rhodium are two other precious metals used. Rhodium is used as a reduction catalyst, palladium is used as an oxidation catalyst, and platinum is used both for reduction and oxidation. Cerium, iron, manganese, and nickel are also used, although each has limitations. Nickel is not legal for use in the European Union because of its reaction with carbon monoxide into toxic nickel tetracarbonyl. Copper can be used everywhere except Japan.

Upon failure, a catalytic converter can be recycled into scrap. The precious metals inside the converter, including platinum, palladium, and rhodium, are extracted.


NPR
A huge increase in thefts of catalytic converters has hit the nation, for at least the second time this century. Thieves are sliding under cars and trucks and brazenly sawing off converters by the thousands. The attraction is the valuable metals inside the converter, an anti-pollution device.

Websites indicate recyclers pay $50 to $200 to legally obtain a failed converter, or one from a junked vehicle. But industry sources say with the high metals prices, it's possible for processors to make several hundred dollars per unit selling contents to the refinery.

That's because there was about an 18-inch hole between the engine and muffler where the cylinder-shaped catalytic converter used to be. In what likely took about two minutes, someone had slid under the Honda and sawed off the device. Wilson says he feels lucky that he has insurance that covered about 90% of the $2,000 replacement cost.

Insurance payouts are stacking up, but many other theft victims don't have coverage. An Illinois-based group — the National Insurance Crime Bureau — is tracking the surge in catalytic converter thefts, says there's been about a ten-fold increase in thefts since 2018, with more than 14,000 reported being swiped in 2020.

One of many cities reporting an upswing in the crime is Milwaukee, where Ben Wilson recently stepped outside his house and made a troubling discovery about a family car.

"I woke up in the morning and was moving my wife's Honda Element out of the driveway. And when I turned it on, it made an incredibly loud sound," Wilson says.

A preventative option is to have a metal plate or catalytic converter lock installed. A quick google search can help you find one that fits your vehicle model, but they aren't cheap and can range from $150-$500. However, they ARE cheaper than replacing a stolen catalytic converter, and fixing the damage caused by the thieves.