WALTON COUNTY, Fla. (WMBB) – An uptick in catalytic converter thefts is being felt by vehicle owners across the Panhandle.

The car part filters pollutants out of the car’s exhaust system and contains a precious metal called rhodium.

“We’re seeing more along the big buses, the shuttle companies, even in fenced-in areas where we recommend keeping your vehicles locked up, we’ve actually seen an uptick in cutting through fences,” Walton County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Steven Taylor Park said. “We had a landscape business that was struck a few months back and then most recently we had a shuttle company here locally that a fence was cut through and they actually hit, I believe nine catalytic converters out of that lot.”

Thieves can steal a catalytic converter from under your vehicle in just 20 seconds.

The Walton County Sheriff’s Office suggests five ways to prevent this theft.

  • Securing your vehicle behind a gate or in a garage
  • Parking in a well-lit area
  • Using a theft prevention device
  • Parking your car over a berm to prevent undercarriage access
  • Painting and etching your VIN number into the converter

“Even if they grind it off, a reasonable person is going to know that there was something there that leads them to believe that this wasn’t a lawful sale of this second-hand metal,” Lt. Park said.

While there is a strict policy on scrap metal in Florida, thieves will take the collection of catalytic converters across state lines and sell them to second-hand recyclers.

“What it’s going to take is a law change,” Lt. Park said. “These converters are going to have to be more restrictive on what they can and can’t accept at those second-hand recyclers, and until we do that, we are fighting an uphill battle, but we are going to do the best we can.”

Local auto repair experts suggest installing a catalytic converter cage to prevent thieves from sawing off the valuable part.