Cracking down on catalytic converter thefts

Published: Jul. 23, 2021 at 10:24 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - A tough new law went into effect in Tennessee three weeks ago. The law is intended to put the brakes on the theft and resale of catalytic converters across the state.

At Steve’s Tire and Auto in East Memphis, manager Brian Murphree says they do a brisk business replacing stolen catalytic converters.

“We’ve been doing anywhere from 5 to 10 a week,” he told Action News 5.

The exhaust emission devices contain precious metals that criminals sell to recycling businesses for a pretty penny.

“They get anywhere from $150 up to $1,300 per converter,” said Murphree, “depending on the type of vehicle it comes out of.”

The National Insurance Crime Bureau says catalytic converter thefts are skyrocketing nationwide: 282 stolen per month in 2019, and more than 1,200 a month stolen in 2020.

Victims are left with broken cars and empty wallets because the repair bills can cost more than a grand.

“It’s heartbreaking when you see customers who aren’t able to pay,” said Murphree, “or don’t have the means to pay because they’re on a fixed income because they’re an elderly couple or elderly person.”

A new Tennessee consumer protection law that went into effect July 1, 2021, makes it harder for crooks to cash-in. Scrap metal buyers must sign up for the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance Scrap Metal Registration Program, which includes providing thumb prints. Sellers must provide documentation and identification. Both parties must notify the police.

The president of the Tennessee Scrap Recyclers Association said, “We knew stricter laws were needed to protect the citizens of Tennessee. Working with the State and law enforcement, we were able to pass the best catalytic converter law in the country.”

“We’ve been told they’re taking them over to Arkansas,” said Murphree, “because their laws and regulations aren’t as strict as what Tennessee has right now.”

As Tennessee toughens up, other states feel the impact. Forrest City, Arkansas Police arrested three Memphis men Thursday, July 22, 2021. Cops say they found a stolen catalytic converter and crack cocaine in their van.

“These crooks,” said Murphree, “are the worst.”

“I just hope they catch them,” he said, “I hope they catch them and throw them under the jail.”

Violators of the new law can be charged with a Class A misdemeanor and issued a fine. The seller of a used, detached stolen catalytic converter can also be liable to the victim for the repair and replacement of the catalytic converter.

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