Gary Supper is just one of the hundreds of Long Islanders who have been recently victimized by catalytic converter theft.
The valuable part was taken from his car in his son’s Ronkonkoma driveway in September. Thieves hit the 2007 Toyota Prius in the middle of the night, but the burglary wasn’t discovered until his son went to turn on the ignition in the morning and only heard sputtering.
“He went to turn it on and it sounded like an airplane was taking off,” Supper said, adding that it cost about $3,000 to replace the part and to have the car towed to a mechanic near his home in Glen Head.
That’s what led Supper to accepting a complimentary catalytic converter serial number etching kit at the St. James Day festival on Sunday, a tool the recycling industry and law enforcement say can deter the rising number of thefts.
In Suffolk County, 819 catalytic converters have been stolen through August of this year, up from 289 in all of 2021, according to Suffolk police. Nassau saw an even larger increase, with 445 reported in 2021 rising to 1,549 through August of this year, according to department spokesman Det. Lt. Richard LeBrun.
Catalytic converters can be taken in a matter of minutes and have an average worth between $800 and $1,200, according to the analytics and data firm J.D. Power, making them a high value target.
The devices — which are attached to a vehicle's muffler and located underneath the chassis — contain precious metals such as platinum, palladium and rhodium, and are used to convert toxic engine exhaust into less harmful gases.
“It’s something, it’s fair to say, we battle on a nightly basis,” said Insp. David Regina, commanding officer of Suffolk’s Fourth Precinct. “This is a national problem — it’s not just focused on Suffolk and Nassau counties.”
Regina recommended keeping a car in a garage if possible, pointing any surveillance camera toward cars overnight and calling 911 if there is suspicious activity. LeBrun also stressed removing key fobs from vehicles overnight.
Larry Schillinger, corporate counsel for the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, a trade organization, handed out 1,000 etching kits on behalf of the group and Medford-based Gershow Recycling Corp. in St. James on Sunday.
Schillinger explained that a special liquid and a stencil are used to etch a serial number into a catalytic converter, which isn't typically marked. Car owners can then register that serial number through a website provided with the kit, and Gershow promised to check the number and report to law enforcement if it correlates to a stolen part.
“That way we’ll be able to associate a stolen catalytic converter with a person attempting to sell,” Schillinger said.
Both Schillinger and Regina acknowledged etching kits alone would not put an end to catalytic converter thefts, but said they may discourage some criminals.
“It’s a deterrent,” said Carmen Gargano of St. James, who picked up a kit for his recently purchased 2019 Ford Mustang. “It puts another obstacle in front of these guys.”