The North Riverside Police Department is inviting residents to sign up to have their vehicles’ catalytic converters spray painted with heat-resistant paint to make them less attractive to thieves at a special catalytic converter marking event set for Saturday, Oct. 29 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the police department parking lot at 2359 Desplaines Ave.

The service is free to North Riverside residents only, vehicles must have a North Riverside vehicle sticker and registration is required.

“The real problem is the unscrupulous junkers who will take these [devices] from the guys stealing them,” said Police Chief Christian Ehrenberg.

By spray painting the word “police” or something similar in brightly colored heat-resistant paint, the hope is that it will make those recyclers less prone to take a chance buying what is likely a stolen catalytic converter.

“The purpose … is to make them have no value,” Ehrenberg said. “If it has the word ‘police’ on it, it’s clear, it makes it harder [for a seller] to deny the fact that they didn’t get it from some place legitimately.”

Ehrenberg said he spoke with a colleague in Evanston, where a similar event was held in the past, and not one of the spraypainted catalytic converters had been removed from a vehicle.

“It’s just like a burglar who sees a sticker outside a house that there’s an alarm system,” Ehrenberg said. “It’s risk versus reward.”

Residents can call 708-762-5431 to receive a time to have their vehicle’s catalytic converter marked. There are 15 spots available in each one-hour block, said Ehrenberg, so the event will be limited to 45 vehicles, unless there’s an overwhelming demand that may lead to extending it by an hour.

Not all cars are susceptible to catalytic converter theft, but some makes and models are widely targeted, including the Toyota Prius, Tundra and Tacoma, Honda Accord and CR-V, Nissan NV 200, GMC Acadia and Terrain, Chevy Equinox and Traverse and Buick Enclave.

Thefts of catalytic converters have spiked this year all over the Chicago area and nationwide as thieves sell off the stolen devices, which reduce motor vehicles’ toxic emissions, to recyclers for quick cash.

According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, thefts of the devices have skyrocketed in the past few years, from about 4,000 in 2019 to more than 52,000 in 2021. 

That trend was also reflected locally. According to North Riverside police records, there were 21 catalytic converters stolen in 2020, but only seven came from vehicles parked in residential areas. Fourteen were stolen in one night from vehicles parked outside at the Zeigler Ford car dealership.

There were just 12 total catalytic converters stolen in North Riverside in 2021, but through nine months this year a total of 29 catalytic converters been reported stolen.

Thieves target the devices because they are easy to steal in a short amount of time and because they contain precious metals like palladium and platinum, which are worth thousands of dollars an ounce, and rhodium, which is worth about $20,000 an ounce. 

According to the NICB in March, thieves get between $50 and $250 for each device.

“As the value of the precious metals remains high, so do the number of thefts of these devices,” the NICB concluded in a March report. “There is a clear connection between times of crisis, limited resources, and disruption of the supply chain that drives these thefts.

Catalytic converters are also expensive to replace, costing victims $1,000 to $3,000 depending on their insurance coverage, NICB reported.