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States Target Car Part Thefts

03/01/2022
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    The Lafferty family had not one, but three catalytic converters stolen. Clockwise from left: Seamus, Jedidiah, Patrick, Christy, Savannah (Patrick Lafferty)
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    The Laffertys’ Honda Odyssey minivan was one of the cars hit by thieves. (Patrick Lafferty)
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    Catalytic converters are attractive targets for thieves. They are valuable and easy to access on the underside of a car. (Patrick Lafferty)
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    Used catalytic converters removed from cars at a salvage yard are piled in a carton in Richmond, Virginia. (AP/Steve Helber)
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    Troy Webber, owner of Chesterfield Auto Parts, holds a used catalytic converter. Prices for the precious metals contained in these auto parts have skyrocketed. (AP/Steve Helber)
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One summer day in Arden, North Carolina, the Lafferty family made a dismaying discovery. The engines of their Honda Odyssey minivan and Toyota Corolla sedan roared! The noise was a tell-tale sign. The vehicles’ catalytic converters had been stolen. “It sounds like you’re driving a Harley-Davidson with no muffler,” Patrick Lafferty says.

The three Lafferty kids were angry. Injustice had been done. They hoped to solve “the mystery of the stolen catalytic converters.”

The neighborhood is near a Christian camp and conference center. It’s a quiet area with little traffic. “We even leave our doors unlocked sometimes,” says mom Christy. So when about a dozen cars in the neighborhood were hit, it was a shock.

About six weeks later, the catalytic converter of the family RV was stolen too—from inside a nearby storage facility. Thieves had cut through the fence.

The Laffertys aren’t alone. There’s been a nationwide surge in thefts of catalytic converters over the past two years.

What’s the appeal of the small device attached to the underside of your family’s car? A catalytic converter changes harmful substances in a car’s exhaust to less harmful products like carbon dioxide and water vapor. For those chemical reactions, it needs a catalyst. Usually, the catalyst is a precious metal such as platinum, palladium, or rhodium.

The coronavirus pandemic disrupted the supply chains for many industries. With a smaller supply, prices for many things—including those metals—have skyrocketed. Thieves can net anywhere from $50 to $300 if they sell a converter to a scrap yard, which then sells it to recycling facilities to reclaim the precious metals inside.

In response, states across the country have toughened penalties for the thefts. They’ve also imposed new requirements for scrap metal dealers who buy the converters. Ten states enacted new laws in 2021. Arkansas, South Carolina, and Texas require buyers of used converters to maintain records of purchases, including proof of ownership, vehicle identification numbers, the seller’s home address, and driver’s license numbers. In North Carolina, a new law makes catalytic converter thefts a Class I felony. A similar bill proposed in Virginia would presume that anyone in possession of one has obtained it illegally unless the person has a receipt.

Human laws can help curb sin. (1 Peter 2:13-14) Fear of punishment may keep would-be thieves from stealing. Laws can’t do much about the sin within the human heart, though. But God has the power both to forgive heart sin and restrain us from acting on it.

As you wish that others would do to you, do so to them. — Luke 6:31

Why? Humans make laws in an attempt to bring justice. Those laws can restrain evil in our communities. But only God can guarantee true justice.

Pray: Pray that God will change the hearts of those who turn to theft. (Ephesians 4:28) And pray that He will turn your heart away from sin as well.