Catalytic Converter Thefts On The Rise Across Fairfax County: Police
RESTON, VA — Catalytic converter thefts are on the rise across Fairfax County, according to the Fairfax County Police officer charged with investigating such crimes in the Reston District.
From January to April, 333 catalytic converters were stolen in all of Fairfax County compared to just 27 similar thefts over the same period in 2021. As of Wednesday night, the-year to-date total had climbed to 367 catalytic converter thefts, including 40 in Reston.
Catalytic converters are part of a vehicle’s emissions system and contain precious metals such as platinum, rhodium and palladium, according to Russo. As the engine heats up and air moves through the system and into the converter, it interacts with these precious metals that extract pollutants from the air.
“What would cause the prices to skyrocket? Why would cases go up like that?” Detective Alyson Russo asked attendees at Wednesday night’s meeting of the Reston District Community Advisory Committee at the North County Government Center.”It’s because of the precious metals in the catalytic converters. I was actually shocked at the dollar amount.”
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Thieves are stealing catalytic converters because the price for platinum, rhodium and palladium has increased considerably due to shortages caused by the global shutdown. Even though relatively small amounts of these metals can be found in the converters, prices have risen enough to make them desirable targets for thieves, according to Russo.
During the meeting, Russo shared surveillance videos from two recent catalytic converter thefts she investigated in Reston. Both incidents took place in the early morning hours. The thieves drove up, jacked up the vehicles, used a tool to cut out the catalytic converters, removed the jack and drove off. The whole process took between 30-45 seconds. Most of the recent thefts in Reston have occurred in the areas around North Shore Drive and Wiehle Avenue.
“What they’re doing is they’re stealing a vehicle. Then they’re taking that stolen vehicle and then they’re driving around for a short drive, and they’re targeting Toyota Priuses,” Russo said, describing recent thefts that have occurred in Reston. “They’re loading up the stolen car with all of their catalytic converters, and then they’re going back to whatever vehicle they arrived in, offloading the catalytic converters and then dumping the stolen vehicle.”
Russo explained that thieves were targeting Priuses in particular because of their electric batteries. The longer a gas-fueled engine runs, the more air passes through the catalytic converter. Over time, the precious metals begin to wear away. Since a Prius can run off its battery instead of its gas-fueled engine, a Prius catalytic converters will retain more of its precious metals.
Thieves are also targeting Ford F250 trucks, which have larger catalytic converters in order to help the gas-burning pick-ups meet clean emission requirements.
Although police recommend owners store their vehicle in a garage or park it in a well-lit area, there’s not a lot that can be done to protect vehicles from catalytic converter thieves. Even if police catch a thief with a load of converters, it’s difficult to link them to a particular car.
In addition, thieves tend sell the stolen converters to scrapyards, which break them down to extract the precious metals. Since the converters have no identifying features linking them to the original owner, there’s no way for the scrapyard owner to recognize it as a stolen item nor for police to enforce the trafficking of stolen converters.
The Virginia General Assembly recognized this as a problem and passed SB 729 during the 2022 session. The bill sets new penalties for the theft of catalytic converters and requires scrapyards to maintain documentation about any catalytic converter they purchase. Gov. Glenn Youngkin signed the bill into law on April 2022 and it will go into effect on July 1.
In the meantime, owners can take they vehicle to garage to have a metal cover welded over their catalytic converter. There are also kits available with self-etching labels that embed a number onto the catalytic converter. That number can be registered with an online service, which can be used to identify the stolen