Here’s a way, born in northeast Philadelphia, to fight catalytic converter thieves

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Cat Cut, an anti-theft program designed in northeast Philadelphia, promises a low-cost solution to a costly problem – the surge in catalytic converter theft, which plagues car and truck owners every time platinum prices. and other precious metals are reaching cyclical highs. .

The program, developed by city leaders of NE Phila Connected with support from local insurers, uses auto repair shops to paint converters red and stamp them with vehicle identification numbers so that ‘they are more difficult to sell illegally to scrap dealers. There is even a warning sticker to show that a car has been treated.

Here’s what it’s like to find out that your catalytic converter has been looted: press your ignition and the engine comes alive, but very loudly, as if it were an airplane.

While you were sleeping or working, a thief snuck under, probably with one of those battery operated pipe saws. With two butcher’s cuts, the thief sliced ​​through your catalytic converter, a kind of mini-silencer that renders pollutants harmless, from the pipes between your wheels. Their goal is to sell it to a junkyard for the precious platinum, palladium, or rhodium balls in it, which are currently worth half, as much and five times as gold, respectively.

They hope to earn maybe $ 200 for each converter stolen. It could cost you, and possibly your insurer, over $ 2,000 to replace, so you can hope to pass your next inspection and stop setting off the neighbor’s car alarm every time you leave the house.

“It’s become a common thing these days. It really bothers me, we get so many claims, ”said Tatsiana Maroz, an Allstate insurance agent in the Netherlands, Bucks County. “These things are expensive to replace. People have to pay their deductibles. And that’s not good for insurance companies. Everyone knows this is happening. But it has been difficult to incriminate someone who does, if there is no evidence that they were taken from that specific vehicle.

As precious metal prices have soared to thousands of dollars an ounce, following pandemic supply disruptions and the general increase in demand for rhodium, especially in digital devices, converter thefts Catalytic converter nationwide jumped by about 100 per month in 2018, tripling that rate. next year – and hit over 1,200 last year, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau.

“We’ve been dealing with this for three or four years,” said Vasyl Droniv, of Prestige Auto Service in Huntingdon Valley. “At the beginning, mainly with Toyota Priuses. But over the past year, it has become a very big problem for everyone.

So Droniv was ready when Roman Zhukov and Roman Krilov, founders of the city watch group NE Phila Connected, came to see him with Cat Cut, the program developed by their group on the advice of police and insurers.

The objective: to make your catalytic converter “traceable, more easily identifiable in the event of theft”, and to warn thieves, not only with red paint but also with a window sticker, “that the ‘cat’ is marked and be harder to sell, ”Zhukov said. The group is also spreading the word around the junkyards grouped together in several areas of the city and the suburbs.

Last Saturday, the Droniv store hosted a special event to install Cat Cut. “We paint each catalytic converter with a bright red, heat-resistant Rustoleum paint,” Droniv said. “Then we engrave the vehicle identification number [VIN] right on it. And we give them a decal, with the little logo, Cat Cut. So, waste pickers and dumpsites are aware that this particular converter can be traced.

The procedure costs around $ 40 – Zhukov figured that you can buy the materials at an auto parts store for $ 20 and try it out for yourself at home.

At special events like last Saturday’s, the cost may be paid by participating insurance agencies, in this case by Maroz’s Allstate. “It was really, really good,” said Maroz. She got to know the folks at Prestige, spoke to the dozen or so drivers who were “Cat Cut” and signed up half a dozen people she met for the police.

Zhukov said other vehicle owners had the service performed at their own expense, at stores such as Rhawn Automotive, R&R Car Repair, GI Auto Repair and Next Level Automotive Service, all located in northeast Philadelphia. .

Can’t thieves just smash the converters and remove the metal? They lack more specialized tools and knowledge and have so far left this step to buyers, Zhukov said.

Even tagging your converter, “you are not immune to theft,” he admitted. “But you allow those responsible to be sued. We hope that with this program we can slow down and eventually deter these crimes. “

Zhukov said he was negotiating events with machine shops in Port Richmond and other neighborhoods and with other insurance agencies, including representatives from Farmers and State Farm.

Philadelphia City Council passed a resolution approving the program, an effort led by David Oh, a Republican, and several Democrats, including Cindy Bass and Cherelle Parker, the majority leader. NE Phila Connect has also reached out to the city’s Sheriff’s Department and Bucks and Montgomery County prosecutors to get the word out.

Residents have complained of thefts for years and posted requests for surveillance videos on social media, said Bob Stewart, an assistant to State Senator John Sabatina Jr., a Democrat who represents Northeastern. Philly. He said Captain Richard Ritchie of the Seventh Police District noted the increase in thefts against community leaders and “was happy to hear the community is doing it,” Stewart added.

If the program takes off, Zhukov said, his group has nothing to gain except publicity. “What we have done is public, royalty free and accessible to all interested,” he said.

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