Tire and rim thefts are seriously on the rise around DC. Between January 1, 2022 and October 10, 2022, the Metropolitan Police Department received 472 reports of such thefts; during the same period in 2021, there were 161 reports. What’s more, the department received 198 reports of catalytic converter thefts in the second half of 2021 (2022 numbers were not yet available).
We caught up with auto expert Ben Perricone, who works in the American Automobile Associations’s auto-repair program, to find out more about why these specific parts are being targeted. “It’s like most other things in life: follow the money,” Perricone says. Catalytic converters are made with three precious metals: platinum, palladium, and rhodium. The devices require these materials to perform its function (reducing harmful emissions and pollutants in a car’s exhaust). “The scarcity of those materials lends such a high price to them,” Perricone says.
As of February 2023, platinum is worth about $900 per ounce, palladium is worth about $1,430 per ounce, and rhodium–the most effective at converting gasses to exhaust—is worth over $11,000 per ounce. The catch: each converter contains only a few grams of each metal.
“For a thief, a catalytic converter at an unscrupulous salvage yard can net them anywhere between $40 and $100 apiece.” Perricone says. One device might not be worth stealing, but if “somebody goes out at night and steals five or ten catalytic converters, that could be a relatively decent payday.”
Similarly, one set of tires and rims might not go for a lot of money, but sets from several cars can produce sizable earnings. The price of tires increased in 2022, leading more people to buy used ones. And tire rims are made with high-grade aluminum, one of the few metals that can be melted down and recycled an infinite number of times. Once someone has stolen tires and rims, Perricone explains, they can sell the tires to a tire salesman and the rims to a scrapyard.
Hybrid vehicles are most frequently targeted for their catalytic converters—they contain higher amounts of the desirable materials—and Perricone says the Toyota Prius leads the pack.
To protect yourself from these thefts, AAA recommends parking your car in a garage or driveway. If you’re street parking, do it in a well-lit area. Parking close to the curb will make it tough for someone to steal at least two of the tires, and turning your wheels in one direction will make it difficult for someone to separate the rim from the tire and remove the tire from the wheel well. There are also car alarms with wheel sensors, wheel locks, and lug nut locks.