Harris County

To combat catalytic converter thefts in Harris County, AAA offers free etching in car parts

Harris County reported that about 3,000 catalytic converters have been stolen this year, with 177 of the thefts taking place in September.

Shavonne Herndon / Houston Public Media
An auto worker etches a number into a car’s catalytic converter. Harris County has seen an increase in thefts for the car parts. AAA is offering free etching services in order to combat them.

AAA-approved facilities will be offering catalytic converters etching for free in hopes to combat catalytic converter thefts.

About 3,000 catalytic converters have been stolen this year in unincorporated Harris County, officials say, with 177 of the thefts taking place in September.

Dave Skaien, AAA Auto Repair Facility Manager, said it's important to have catalytic converters etched. AAA will etch the owner's license plate number or the last eight digits of their VIN.

"Also, having your catalytic converter marked with a very brightly colored paint helps deter thieves from taking (them)," Skaien said.

The number of catalytic converter theft claims is at 528 in Texas so far in 2022. In 2020, the number was 38 statewide.

Harris County authorities say the thefts are a continuing problem.

"So to date between January and now, approximately 3,000 catalytic converters have been stolen. That’s an unincorporated Harris County," said Harris County Sgt. Eduardo Rivera. "That’s not including cities. Houston, Pasadena, Baytown. This is unincorporated Harris County. These are the numbers for the sheriff’s office. This crime, it’s a crime of opportunity."

Catalytic converters change the harmful substances in a car's exhaust gasses – carbon monoxide, nitric oxide, nitrogen dioxide – into less harmful substances like carbon dioxide and water vapor. The parts are often sold for high earnings to metal scrappers, as two of the three rare earth metals used in the parts – rhodium and palladium – are worth more per ounce than gold.

Once stolen, they can be sold for hundreds of dollars, but the victims of the theft could be out of anywhere between $1,500 and $7,500 to have the part replaced.

Catalytic converter thefts started increasing in 2020 as the pandemic led to higher unemployment and lots of high-riding vehicles such as trucks and SUVS, the primary targets of the thefts, were left idle and driven less.

There are nine AAA-approved locations participating in the etching program. Appointments are quickly filling up, but authorities say they are adding more appointments to accommodate additional motorists that want to have their catalytic converter etched.

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