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'It has gotten out of hand': Catalytic converter thefts reach new highs, impact small car dealers

Jambo Woldyohannis stands in front of a Range Rover that has a catalytic converter stolen
Posted at 4:37 PM, Feb 28, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-28 20:27:47-05

DENVER — Jambo Woldyohannis has a new morning routine of starting each of the nearly 100 cars on his lot. It is the only efficient way he can check to see if any of his cars at Jambo's Automotive were hit by catalytic converter thieves. In the past year, 12 of his cars have been targeted.

"It's just another job. You know, daily routine," said Woldyohannis, who most recently had a catalytic converter stolen out of a Range Rover. "We are losing money. And we can not sell it, so I have to park this car until I get the catalytic converter."

The replacement catalytic converter for the Range Rover costs more than $3,000, but Woldyohannis says he has seen some bills for nearly double that. The cost of replacing the part means the cars are no longer profitable on his lot, and he will likely have to sell the car for a loss.

"We have a customer that was ready to test drive it when we posted online. And unfortunately, the customer cannot buy this car because of the catalytic converter," he said. "They are on backorder, will take me at least two three months. And the value of the vehicle is going to be depreciated by that time."

Woldyohannis is not alone in his struggle. Dealerships across the Front Range are being hit. Many managers say the past several months have been particularly bad.

"The crime has just gone up and up over the last few years. We used to not have very many problems," said Daniel Berkenkotter, owner of Berkenkotter Motors in Colorado. "Over the years, it's like once a week you got something you got to deal with, and it's costly."

The industry is banding together to push for legislation to fix the issue. Senate Bill 22-009 in the Colorado legislature seeks to re-allow the sale and instillation of aftermarket catalytic converters in cars registered in the state. That practice was banned in 2018 under a new set of transportation regulations that sought to decrease emissions. Critics of the bill say that re-allowing aftermarket catalytic converters will allow emissions to increase, but advocates of the bill say it is necessary to stop these thefts.

"Members are going out of business. We've had members close their doors because they've been hit more than once," said David Cardella, CEO of the Colorado Independent Automobile Dealers Association. "This is not a left or right issue. This is a people issue, and we need to get these cars back on the road in an inexpensive and timely manner."

For now, dealers like Woldyohannis are required to check each and every one of their cars every day to ensure they are not down another catalytic converter and thousands of dollars.