YAKIMA, Wash. —Yakima Jiffy Lubes are now offering a free service to community members that police believe will both help discourage people from stealing catalytic converters and help them to catch suspects after a theft occurs.
The service includes spraying high visibility paint on the catalytic converter to let anyone attempting to steal it that it’s not a good idea, because the paint also marks the fact that it’s been engraved with the vehicle identification number.
Detective Arturo Medina, who has worked in YPD’s property crimes division for the past seven years, said this solves the long-standing problem of catalytic converters not having any identifying marks.
Without some kind of mark or identification number, a catalytic converter is easy to steal, difficult to prove stolen and nearly impossible to return to the rightful owner in the unlikely event police are able to recover it.
“I’m going to places and seeing catalytic converters that I know are stolen but I can’t prove it,” Medina said. “There’s nothing I can do about it. It is very frustrating.”
Medina said they’re seeing more catalytic converter thefts every year, with 22 reported in 2021 and 27 reported to date in 2022. He said that they’re often a target for thieves who want to profit off of the expensive, precious metal called rhodium that’s inside catalytic converters.
“They take the catalytic converters, sell the precious metal and make a quick buck,” Medina said.
Medina said in the past, the best people have been able to do for prevention is park in garages or well lit areas covered by security cameras or motion sensors. But now, he said having a VIN engraved on the catalytic converter will make thieves think twice.
Matthew Buchanan, the assistant general manager at the Jiffy Lube located at 301 S. 1st St. in Yakima, said the service is quick and easy. It takes about five minutes to apply a thin layer of high temperature paint and then do the engraving.
“It’s engraved with a small line that’s not going to damage the catalytic converter at all,” Buchanan said.
Yakima Jiffy Lubes owner Scott Rainford said he’s had a lot of customers ask whether people can circumvent the paint and engraving by scraping it off or otherwise removing the identifying marks. He said they can, but it won’t matter in the long run.
“It’s just like a firearm; once you grind off the serial numbers, it’s stolen, so they can get busted,” Rainford said. “This will alarm the salvage companies, it’ll alarm pawn shops, whoever is involved in this, they’re gonna know that they’re tied to something that’s stolen.”
Under the current law, stealing a catalytic converter is treated like any other theft and the severity of the offense depends on the worth of the item. Prosecutors may be delayed while waiting for someone to give them the quote they need to make a charging decision.
Additionally, that means someone who — at random — happens to steal a catalytic converter from an older car and it’s worth less than $750, it’s a gross misdemeanor.
But if another person does the same thing, only with a fancier or newer car where the catalytic converter is valued at more than $750, they’re likely facing felony charges.
Rainford said ideally, he’d like to see the legislature create a criminal charge specifically for catalytic converter thefts to make it easier for police to investigate and for prosecutors to make charging decisions.
Police recommend anyone who notices that their catalytic converter’s been stolen call 911, wait with their vehicle and not touch anything, in case there was any evidence behind.
Rainford said once a catalytic converter is stolen, it’s not a simple matter to replace it because the vehicle has to be modified in order to make a new piece fit right. He said the price depends on the car, but it’s often in the thousands for the cost of parts and labor.
“It’s not cheap at all and there’s a lot of people that have been hurt,” Rainford said. “And in the days that we’re living in, not a lot of people have a lot of extra money for that.”
And while cars will usually run without a catalytic converter, it’s illegal to drive a vehicle without one in all 50 states and U.S. territories. Buchanan said besides being required by law, there’s three main reasons to have a catalytic convertor.
“The number one reason being, it can stink sometimes like rotten eggs and it’s really not fun to drive around like that,” Buchanan said.
Buchanan said the second reason is that the car becomes extremely loud when running, which is often how people figure out their catalytic converter has been stolen.
“And number three, it’s actually really bad for the environment,” Buchanan said. “So the catalytic converters do have a precious metal in them that helps turn a noxious gas into a non-noxious gas.”
Buchanan said coming in to get the engraving done can also be a good time for drivers to take advantage of their other free services, like brake inspections, AC checks, checking the check engine lights or tire repair.
According to Rainford, the hope is that offering this as a free service will help discourage people from stealing catalytic converters and ease the burden on the police officers who are repeatedly called to investigate the thefts.
“They’re gonna see that stripe and paint on there and maybe think twice about it, because as soon as they cut that off and it hits their trunk, it can be identified,” Rainford said. “It’s like it’s a no-brainer, honestly. I mean, there’s no reason not to come get it done.”
Drivers do not need to make an appointment and can just ask for the catalytic converter identification service at either the Jiffy Lube location at 301 S. 1st St. or the one at 3310 W. Nob Hill Blvd.
People in other areas of the Pacific Northwest can also call their local Jiffy Lube to see if they’re one of the locations offering this free service.
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