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Catalytic Converter Thefts Citywide Up About 300%, Police Say

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- An essential car part takes only minutes to steal and can cost an owner thousands, and it's a crime that's on the increase.

"I'm doing this 38 years, I've never seen it this bad ever," said Phillip LaPorta at American Muffler on Long Island.

But for LaPorta, "bad" means good for business.

"We had seven of them on Monday," he told CBS2's Dick Brennan.

LaPorta is talking about drivers coming to replace stolen catalytic converters in their cars.

Det. Thomas Burke of the NYPD Auto Theft Division says it's a growing problem in the five boroughs, too.

"So far this year to date, we're probably citywide up around 300%," he said.

Catalytic converters reduce harmful emissions the engine creates, turning hazardous exhaust into less harmful gas. In 2019, there were close to 3,400 reported thefts. Last year, that number soared to more than 14,000.

But it's rarely the part to resell or for scrap.

"They want what's inside the converter, that honeycomb briquette that actually has the precious metals inside," said John Tirpin, of TNT Automotive in New Hyde Park.

The mesh that's the target can contain platinum, palladium or rhodium, metals that range in price from about $1,000-$11,000 an ounce.

"There's a process of taking the internals of the converter ... so they could extract those precious metals," Tirpin said.

Thieves can potentially rake in thousands. As for car owners, most will pay out of pocket to have the part replaced.

"So this is like a little less than $1,000," LaPorta said.

For other cars, the price can be twice that. It takes only a minute or two for a crook to cut out the part.

But there are steps owners can take to help prevent that.

The police are rolling out a free program that will etch a traceable serial number onto the part, alerting anyone buying on the secondary market that they can be liable for buying a potentially stolen item.

"We don't catch you in the act, hey, we'll catch you afterwards," Burke said.

Another solution is to mark the catalytic converter with a high temperature paint.

"If that converter is trying to be sold to somebody who is honest, they see that paint on there," said Robert Sinclair, of AAA.

He adds reinforcing the part with metal is also an option.

"The cage serves as a deterrent ... It might be something that a thief won't want to bother with," Sinclair said.

Police also suggest you park in well-lit areas, a garage or fenced-in driveway when possible.

"Whatever you would do to keep them from stealing the whole car is the same thing you should do to keep someone from stealing the catalytic converter," Sinclair said.

All vehicles are potential targets for this. SUVs can be particularly popular with thieves because of their easy access, with no jack required to get underneath.

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