Police: Numerous catalytic converter thefts in Beaufort, SC

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Beaufort County Police received a call from a boat ramp on the Broad River. One truck’s engine “didn’t sound right” and the car’s underframe appeared to have been tampered with.

That weekend, calls about car problems kept coming in—all from the same parking lot.

At least five catalytic converters were damaged or stolen from parked cars Gray’s Hill boat dock last weekend. Joshua Moody, 25, of Barnwell, SC, was arrested in connection with four of those thefts after he was caught under a pickup truck at the boat ramp Sunday night.

According to Maj. Angela Viens, a spokeswoman for the sheriff’s office, the weekend’s incidents are part of a growing problem in Beaufort County. The county police have received 61 reports of theft or attempted theft of catalytic converters so far this year.

But why are thieves after this particular part and why has theft only increased recently?

Here’s what you need to know.

What is a catalyst?

The catalytic converter is an exhaust system device that controls possible toxic gas emissions from cars and converts them into less harmful pollutants.

Cars can run without a catalytic converter and the engine will not be damaged when the part is removed. But without them, drivers should expect reduced engine performance, lower fuel efficiency, and a louder, raspier exhaust note.

If a catalytic converter is damaged or stolen, the equipment is expensive to replace. The estimated repair cost is between $1,000 and $2,000.

Why are the parts stolen?

Catalysts can weigh up to 15 pounds, but most thieves are only interested in about 10 grams of material inside.

The inside of a catalytic converter is coated with three precious metals: palladium, platinum and rhodium. All three are rarer than gold, and Their prices have skyrocketed in the past few years.

Palladium is currently valued at over $2,000 an ounce metals daily, a website for tracking metal prices. An ounce of platinum can fetch over $700. And rhodium, which as “rarest and most valuable precious metal in the world‘ can cost up to $15,000 an ounce. In comparison, gold is currently valued at around $1,800.

A typical catalyst contains about 2-7 grams of palladium, 3-7 grams of platinum and 1-2 grams of rhodium.

To get hold of these precious metals, thieves slide under vehicles with an electric saw and cut open the undercarriage of a car. The job doesn’t take long — sometimes less than a minute — and makes it easy for them to target multiple cars in a short amount of time. The stolen parts are then sold to junkyards and auto repair shops, many of which are part of an underground market.

How can I protect myself?

Because of the quick and easy nature of the crime, any car left in a parking lot is vulnerable to theft, Viens said – but there are ways to prevent the problem:

Be aware of your surroundings when parking your car.

If possible, park near cameras.

Call the sheriff’s office if you notice any suspicious activity.

In South Carolina, newer laws have attempted to combat the rise in catalytic converter thefts. A bill signed into law by Governor Henry McMaster in May 2021 is required Permits and strict record keeping for companies that buy and resell the parts, making it harder for criminals to sell stolen converters.

The owner of a junkyard in Richland County, SC was arrested last summer for violating the new guidelines.

Sofia Sanchez is a breaking news reporter for The Island Packet and Beaufort Gazette. She reports on crime and developing stories in Beaufort and the surrounding area. Sofia is a Cuban-American reporter from Florida and graduated from Florida International University in 2020.

Evan McKenna is a breaking news reporter for The Island Packet and Beaufort Gazette. A former Tennessee and University of Notre Dame graduate, he covers crime and safety in Hilton Head, Bluffton and Beaufort.

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