RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Catalytic converter thieves are busy in Central Virginia, and now law enforcement agencies are hoping paint will stop them in their tracks.  

Law enforcement agencies across the region have partnered with the National Insurance Crime Bureau and the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles to launch an operation called “Catalytic Converter Crackdown.”  The goal of the operation is to deter thieves from stealing catalytic converters from vehicles.

The agencies held a news briefing on Wednesday, Oct. 19 to talk about how many thefts have been reported so far this year.

In Henrico County, there were 683 catalytic converter thefts between Jan. 1 and Sept. 30 this year. Last year, the area had a total of 504 during the same period.

In Richmond, there were 592 catalytic converter thefts as of October 17. In 2021, the area had a total of 559.

In Chesterfield County, there have been 304 catalytic converter thefts so far in 2022. Last year, the area had a total of 297.

In Hanover County, there have been 60 catalytic converter thefts as of September 2022. Five people were arrested by sheriff’s deputies in connection to multiple thefts.

But law enforcement and auto shop owners say these numbers can easily be brought down just by spraying on some heat-resistant spray paint.

Mark Smith, the owner of Midas Richmond, demonstrated how mechanics will spray paint catalytic converters. It takes a few seconds for mechanics to mark your car part.

“This is big business. Deterrence is as simple as this,” Smith said as he demonstrated how to spray the converters. “Boom you’re done. It takes that long to get into the supply chain knowledge that this is a stolen catalytic converter. Simple, but I think very effective.”

Midas Auto Repair and Napa Auto Parts are now working with local police departments and sheriff’s offices throughout Central Virginia to offer free spray paint and marking on catalytic converters.

Captain Faith Flippo, with the Richmond Police Department, said this could curb the rise in property crime.

“This will create a visible deterrent to alert thieves to move on from your vehicle and we put scrap yards on notice,” Flippo said.

Most catalytic converters do not have serial numbers, making it difficult for law enforcement to prove a catalytic converter is stolen, police said. Marking your catalytic converter with paint associates it with a jurisdiction and helps prevent theft. The markings also alert scrapyard and recycling businesses the catalytic converter may have been stolen, police add.

Hanover County Sheriff’s Investigator, Steve Tomlinson, said this could prevent a lot of headaches for drivers.

“On average, these criminals can remove a converter in three minutes or less. Most are less than that,” Tomlinson said. “Let’s all work together to make this as difficult as possible for these criminals to victimize our communities.”

Catalytic converter thefts are big money-makers for thieves and a significant cost to everyone else. Bill Woolf with the National Insurance Crime Bureau said one of their member companies reported over $62 million in paid-out claims for catalytic converter thefts in 2022.

“That is all covered through your insurance premiums which each of us pay,” Woolf said. “So, whether you have been a victim or not you’re still going to end up paying for this catalytic converter.”

Mechanics will mark catalytic converters with heat-resistant spray paint for free at five locations on Nov. 13, Dec. 11 and Jan. 8, 2023, between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. 

Here is a list of the locations:

  • 10160 Hull Street, Midlothian, Va.                                     
  • 1400 Boulevard, Colonial Heights, Va.                             
  • 11463 West Broad Street, Richmond, Va.              
  • 5301 West Broad Street, Richmond, Va.                                          
  • 1212 N. Arthur Ashe Boulevard, Richmond, Va.       

Registration is required to have your catalytic converter spray painted. You can find that registration form online now. 

Some other tips from law enforcement agencies to protect your vehicle are to park in a garage or secured parking area, install a bright motion sensor light to discourage potential thieves, install an anti-theft device and always lock the vehicle and set the alarm. Fleet vehicles and minimally used vehicles should be parked in a secured and well-lit area.

Law enforcement agencies hosting the regional effort include the Chesterfield County Police Department, Colonial Heights Police Department, Hanover County Sheriff’s Office, Henrico County Police Division, Richmond Police Department, University of Richmond Police Department, Virginia Commonwealth University Police Department and Virginia State Police HEAT Program.