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Vehicle and Catalytic Converter Thefts on the Rise

Spring 2023 Issue

By Courtney Townsend, Assistant Claims Manager

Vehicle crime data trends analyzed by the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) indicate vehicle and catalytic converter thefts are reaching record highs. NICB reports that over 1 million vehicles were stolen in the United States in 2022, a 7% increase compared to 2021. California led the nation with 202,685 reported thefts. Illinois and Missouri also made the top 10 list with reported thefts at 38,649 and 29,345, respectively. Notably, Illinois saw a 35% increase in reported thefts compared to the prior year, while Missouri saw a 10% increase.

Kia and Hyundai thefts have been a target for thieves due to lack of anti-theft technology in the 2011-2021 Kia and 2015-2021 Hyundai model years. Social media sites such as YouTube have allowed videos to remain on their platforms that demonstrate techniques to break in and bypass the vehicles’ ignitions, and experts believe the viewing and sharing of this content has significantly contributed to the rise in Kia and Hyundai thefts.

Kia and Hyundai have announced development of new theft-deterrent software in an effort to curb the trend, and all affected vehicles are expected to receive the anti-theft software free of charge in the coming months.

Vehicle thefts with keys or key fobs left inside have also increased. These types of thefts generally increase in winter and summer months as vehicle owners want to warm up or cool down their vehicles before driving. NICB noted a 20% increase of thefts facilitated by keys between 2019 and 2021.

Catalytic converters have also remained a prime target for thieves. NICB identified a 1,215% increase in catalytic converter thefts between 2019 and 2022. Supply chain disruptions have caused delays in parts availability, subsequently spiking the overall demand and cost for vehicle parts. Catalytic converters are particularly prime for theft as they can be removed quickly using the proper tools and contain high value precious metals such as rhodium, palladium, and platinum. The market value for these metals continue to skyrocket, and though nowhere near the metals’ market price, NICB estimates that thieves can receive $50 to $250 per catalytic converter at recycling facilities.

NICB has partnered with several companies to host VIN etching events to deter catalytic converter theft. The vehicle’s VIN is permanently engraved onto the catalytic converter and then sprayed with highly visible high-heat paint. Law enforcement agencies can track the converters using proper VIN scanning technology, and many parts vendors and recycling centers will not accept VIN-etched parts without proper documentation proving ownership.