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‘It’s kind of a chain effect,’ Surge in thefts leads to back-orders for catalytic converters

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catalytic converter

MADISON (WKOW) -- Car thefts have plagued the Madison area in recent years, but now police are seeing thieves go to new lengths to steal just a piece of victims' vehicles.

Madison police say they've taken 47 reports of about 100 catalytic converters stolen from parked cars this year.

It's not an easy task to take part of a car's exhaust system.

"You can just imagine the work that goes into this, getting under this car, removing this item," said Jake Schaefer, service and parts director at Smart Motors in Madison. "These are people that know what they're doing, know what they're looking for."

Schaefer's team is working to replace a dozen stolen catalytic converters for Smart Motors customers just this month.

Police say in 16 theft cases, Prius model years 2004-2008 were involved, which could be because those catalytic converters are larger than in other vehicles.

"The price on replacing that with parts, labor and everything, right around $2,300-2,500 or so for this car specifically," Schaefer said.

In addition to that unexpected cost, some of those customers will have to wait weeks for their cars to be repaired, because the dealership is also finding a shortage in the catalytic converter supply nationwide, as other communities see a surge in thefts, too.

"It's kind of a chain effect and when this happens we have to source more parts and those get more expensive and they go on back-order," he said.

In Sacramento County, California last week, officials found nearly 2,000 stolen catalytic converters with a stash of $300,000 in cash.

The thieves are looking for what's inside: raw materials that are worth more than ever right now.

"Platinum and then other metals inside there has definitely gotten a little more expensive. That's where they're kind of cashing in on that exchange for that recycling," Schaefer said.

Business Insider reports platinum prices have gone up more than $100 in the past month.

There are multiple websites offering, in some cases, hundreds of dollars for a catalytic converter.

27 News reached out to several auto recycling yards in Madison for comment on how buyers work to make sure they're not acquiring stolen materials.

In a statement online, Alter Trading says it takes overall scrap metal theft seriously, using video surveillance to monitor for illegal activity and monitoring trends in the industry by following web alert systems for stolen materials.

Madison Auto Recycling tells 27 News it does not buy individual car parts to avoid these issues, instead the company only purchases full cars with titles.

Schaefer says it can be difficult to identify a stolen part.

"In a normal repair facility, we oftentimes would cut it off, we put a new one in, weld it in, clamp it in. So it's not a telltale sign when you get the part to tell like, hey, this was a theft, or this was something that wasn't sourced ethically at that point," he said.

Smart Motors aims to work with responsible scrap recyclers when dealing with old parts.

"The theory is you ask questions, where did you get it, How did you come about it, right. We can't guarantee that these recyclers are doing that all the time," Schaefer said.

A Madison police spokesperson tells 27 News scrap yards should be reporting suspicious activity to law enforcement. Investigators don't know right now where the stolen items are being sold.

Jennifer Kliese

Weekend Anchor and Reporter, 27 News

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