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State Farm Warns Of Catalytic Converter Thefts

A bin full of discarded catalytic converters at AB CatTech in Burlington, Wis.
Chuck Quirmbach
A bin full of discarded catalytic converters at AB CatTech in Burlington, Wis.

The largest auto insurer in Illinois is sounding a warning about thefts of catalytic converters from autos.

Bloomington-based State Farm Insurance says nationally thefts of that car part have tripled in the last year. State Farm spokesperson Heather Paul said pandemic-related unemployment may be driving the thefts.

"You had a lot of people who may have been out of work looking for alternative ways to make money. And because it is an easy target, thieves were going out and targeting vehicles," said Paul.

Paul said the economy may have affected the trend in another guise.

"We also saw an increase in the amount paid in the after-market or the metals market for in particular three different types of valuable metals that are in catalytic converters, which are platinum, rhodium, and palladium," said Paul.

Depending on the size of the converter, State Farm said thieves are selling them for hundreds, even thousands, of dollars. For the owner of the car, it can be a costly crime due to the potential loss of work, finding and paying for alternate transportation, and paying thousands to get the car fixed.

Paul said thefts occur in all settings, urban and rural. She said some auto owners have been hit multiple times, suggesting they are being targeted.

In 2019, State Farm paid $4.3M for 2,375 catalytic converter theft claims nationally. During 2020 and at the height of the pandemic, State Farm experienced an increase of over 318% in the amount paid compared to 2019 – over $18M paid for 9,320 claims, said the company. The company said it has paid out more than $21 million for more than 12,000 catalytic converter thefts nationwide so far this year, more than for all of last year.

Illinois ranks fifth in the nation for converter thefts, Paul said.

In 2020, State Farm paid nearly $1.1 million for just over 700 catalytic converter theft claims in Illinois. In the first six months of 2021, the company said it paid nearly $847,000 for just over 590 catalytic converter theft claims in Illinois.

She said State Farm is asking Illinois lawmakers to require better record-keeping by metals dealers about who they buy from, impose fines on those who buy from the gray and black market, and perhaps even put VIN numbers on catalytic converter parts. She said 18 states are considering similar measures.

Paul also suggested that if people leave their vehicles parked in public for long periods, they try to choose well lit areas or install security cameras. She said some models can even have metal plates installed over the catalytic converter to make theft more difficult.

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WGLT Senior Reporter Charlie Schlenker has spent more than three award-winning decades in radio. He lives in Normal with his family.
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