Northsider Matt Forsyth recently traveled to Dallas for business, spent the night at a hotel near the Northwest Highway and discovered a surprise awaited the next day when he cranked his truck.
“It sounded like a monster truck,” he said of his 2016 Toyota Tundra.
He started it for a second time with the same result: “It sounded like I was cranking 20 Harley Davidson motorcycles,” he said.
Forsyth had a good idea about what the problem could be but to confirm his suspicion, he took a closer look. “I got down on my knees, put my head under the body of the truck and I could clearly see where the exhaust pipes had been cut,” he said.
The catalytic converter, which looks like a small muffler and is designed to lessen environmentally hazardous emissions, was gone. Sometime in the night while Forsyth slept, thieves had quickly cut the pipes holding the part in place and stolen it.
Forsyth filed a report with the police and learned how efficient thieves can be. “The detective told me it takes a minute, a minute and half, to get it out,” he said.
Thefts of catalytic converters have risen across the country since the start of the coronavirus pandemic because of the increase in the value of the metals contained in them, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau. The bureau, which looked at insurance claims data from 2018 through 2020 related to catalytic converter thefts, could not provide statistics for Mississippi.
Fueling the thefts is the significant increase in the prices of rhodium, palladium and platinum, which catalytic converters contain. The global pandemic reduced production of the metals at mines overseas.
At the beginning of 2020, rhodium was priced at $7,100 an ounce; palladium, $1,967 an ounce and platinum, $1,022 an ounce, according to Kitco, a provider of precious metals. At of the end of 2020, rhodium was $14,500 per ounce; palladium, $2,336 per ounce and platinum was $1,061 per ounce.
As of July 14, these are valued at $19,450 per ounce for rhodium; $2,835 per ounce for palladium; and $1,108 per ounce for platinum.
Recyclers are said to pay from $50 to $250 per catalytic converter.
Lt. Eddy Addison, who heads the criminal investigative division of the Ridgeland Police Department, said the theft is an opportunistic one that takes place in darkness and under a vehicle. “No one is going to crawl under a car in the Walmart parking lot at 2 p.m. because they’d be noticed,” he said.
Ridgeland has not seen recurring thefts of catalytic converters, he said. “It’s not something that’s happening every week,” he said.
April 23 was the last report of a theft of catalytic converters in Ridgeland, Addison said. “They hit a business, a dry cleaner, and took three or four from company vehicles,” he said.
In Jackson, thefts of catalytic converters are on the radar of CrimeStoppers, which on June 25 was seeking information about suspects wanted for stealing the parts from vehicles in the city.
JPD worked with an FBI task force and seized several catalytic converters on June 7 after Anthony Harrell, 49, was charged with operating a chop shop on South Gallatin Street, which is near U.S. Highway 80.
Vehicles that tend to be targeted are trucks that have high clearance, making access to the catalytic converter easier, such as fleet trucks, busses, pickups and high-clearance SUVs, according to the bureau. Also, Toyota Priuses are highly coveted.
Toyota Tundras appeal to thieves, Forsyth said, but so do other makes and models.
“My rep from USAA mentioned that at a Mitsubishi dealership, thieves went to the new car lot and cut out 100 catalytic converters,” he said.
To reduce the chances of theft, the National Insurance Crime Bureau recommends vehicle owners:
• Install a catalytic converter anti-theft device. These are available from various manufacturers and can provide a level of security from theft.
• Park fleet vehicles in an enclosed and secured area that is well lit, locked and alarmed.
• Park personal vehicles in a garage. If not possible and vehicles must be parked in a driveway, consider installing motion sensor security lights. While lights may not provide complete security, it may make some thieves think twice, making them leave the area and your vehicle untouched.
• Call local law enforcement and your insurer should you become the victim of a catalytic converter theft.
At least 18 states, including Arkansas, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia and West Virginia, are studying potential legislative action that could curb the theft of catalytic converters, according to the bureau.
State Sen. David Blount, D-Jackson, said he is not aware of any potential legislative action in Mississippi focused on the thefts of catalytic converters.
Forsyth, who works as a senior vice president and real estate manager for a bank, had his truck towed to a Toyota dealership in Dallas where it still sits and awaits the arrival and installation of a new catalytic converter.
“Toyota told me it wouldn’t be safe to drive,” he said. “I didn’t want to risk driving it and causing damage. I’m just waiting on the catalytic converter to come in. I’m not sure how long that will take.”
Damages are estimated at about $5,000, which luckily his insurance provider will cover them, he said, noting it could take as long as two months to get a catalytic converter in stock.
“Once they get the new catalytic converter on, they have to drive the vehicle to see if there is any other damage based on the way they cut the wires,” Forsyth said. “There could be other damage.”
For now, Forsyth is driving a rented vehicle until he is notified that repairs have been made to his truck.
“I’d love for them to call me and say it’ll be ready this week,” he said. “I’m in the waiting game.”