Westminster offers catalytic converter markings to reduce theft


In an effort to curb the runaway problem of catalytic converter theft, the Westminster Police Department is staging a special event to deter would-be thieves.

On Saturday, the Westminster Police Department will offer to etch the devices for residents, from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., Saturday, May 21 at the City Yard, 14381 Olive St.

Between 2018 and 2021, Westminster has seen a 16-fold increase in the theft of catalytic converters, from 18 to more than 300. Nationally, in 2020, thefts increased more than four-fold in just a year from 280 per month to 1,200, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB).

The noise and exhaust control devices for cars are often sold to scrap yards for their components, which include palladium, platinum and rhodium. The precious metals neutralize the pollutants produced by automobile engines. Rhodium goes for between $15,000 and $16,000 per ounce or 15 times the value of platinum.

Thieves can remove a catalytic converter in less than two minutes with just a wrench or a reciprocating saw. Recyclers will pay between $50 and $250 for standard catalytic converters and $800 to $1,500 for those from hybrid gas-electric cars, particularly older Toyota Prius models, according to officials.

“As the value of the precious metals contained within the catalytic converters continues to increase, so do the number of thefts of these devices,” David Glawe, CEO of the NICB wrote in a statement.

As a hedge, a number of police departments have taken to having VIN numbers or other identifiers etched into the catalytic converters.

The Westminster City Council is also in the process of writing an ordinance making it illegal to possess an uninstalled device without proof of ownership. If approved, the misdemeanor would carry a $1,000 fine per device. Other cities in Orange County are drafting similar laws.

Westminster Police Chief Darin Lenyi said the etching ups the ante, making it easier to prove the device is stolen.