Covid and Catalytic Converters – Issues for Local Auto Dealers
by Ginger Broomes
Orange – Cecil Atkission Toyota’s lot off I-10 in Orange may look sparse, but don’t let that fool you.
“We’ve had our best year since I’ve been here,” said General Manager Mark Blackman.
This despite a nationwide shortage of microchips and plant labor due to Covid, which has affected dealers all across the country.
“Microchips are the primary issue, but we’ve got certain makes and models made at plants that are shut down or short-staffed,” Blackman said. “But the ‘Big 3’ got hit the hardest.”
He has a wall of papers in his office showing the latest allocation of vehicles sent from Toyota. The cars may not be on the lot yet, but he is already selling them site unseen from the lists that Toyota sends him.
In August he sold the highest volume since he took over in 2015.
Another issue plaguing dealerships locally, is the theft of catalytic converters. Cecil Toyota has been hit twice by these thefts, who saw the converters off and sell them for scrap. Blackman said that one theft will cost him $6000 to replace, per vehicle, and that’s why he now keeps the larger trucks – a prime target for thieves – locked up. They’ve also installed special plates beneath the trucks so the catalytic converter cannot be accessed.
Down the road and also along I-10, is Granger Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram. The CDJR store is one of three Granger dealerships in Orange.
When they first bought the store, there were issues with catalytic converter theft, according to manager Bobby Wilkins. But not since then.
“We don’t typically carry the vehicles that are sought after (by thieves),” said Wilkins. They also added more security.
As far as the Covid issue, Wilkins said the majority of their sales come from used vehicles, so that hasn’t been a problem.
“When the downturn happened, we got even more aggressive on the used car side,” Wilkins said. “We’ve been blessed on the new car side that here at the Dodge store, we’ve been getting quite a bit of inventory in, especially on the half-ton trucks.”
Wilkins said that the same plants that manufacture chips for vehicles are also manufacturers for cell phones, tv’s and other electronics, so those chips – faster and easier to make – get built first.
As local dealers have adapted and overcome Covid delays, they also seem to be doing the same for the catalytic converter thefts. If you’ve read any local news story regarding a theft, it seems to involve converters. So who’s doing these crimes, and how bad is it locally?
I spoke with Detective Medina with the Orange Police Department, regarding the thefts .
“Thefts are on the rise, but not just in Orange,” Medina said. “It’s an issue overall.”
He added that he’s spoken with multiple agencies are having the same issue with converter thefts, because it’s such a quick crime with a fast payoff.
“It can take two minutes to get the converters off. We saw that with the Bassmasters.”
During the course of the Bassmasters tournament in Orange this year, Orange police saw a surge of thefts from trucks involved in the tournament.
“The tournament was sponsored by Toyota. Criminals were following Bassmasters from state to state, looking to steal off the trucks.”
Medina added that most of the scrap companies in Orange county have stopped accepting catalytic converters for this reason. However, that doesn’t stop thieves from trying to sell elsewhere.
The penalty for the theft depends upon the dollar amount of converters stolen. But in September, House Bill 4110 went into effect. Signed by Governor Abbott, this bill will makes it a felony to steal, buy or sell stolen catalytic converters. As a third-degree felony, criminals face two to 10 years in prison.
Criminals don't stop to think if 10 years in prison is worth the quick payoff of a couple hundred dollars. But the $6,000 cost to replace them, is going to affect the bottom line, and eventually, the vehicle buyer.
Photo courtesy of Constable Matt Ortego, Orange County.