NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — In recent years, hundreds of Tennesseans haven fallen victim to thieves who’ve managed to saw a part worth thousands of dollars off their vehicles, but a new study shows those thefts might be declining.

In 2020, car insurance companies nationwide reported a record surge of criminals stealing catalytic converters, a part that is laden in precious metals that help clean car exhaust. Thefts continued to rise in the years following, reaching record highs last year.

However, data from the first six months of 2023 shows catalytic converter thefts might be declining in nearly every single state for the first time within the last four years, according to BeenVerified, the company behind the study.

BeenVerified analyzed 2019 and 2020 insured catalytic converter theft data from the National Insurance Crime Bureau and January 2019 through June 2023 search data from Google to make its findings.

Nationwide, the company estimates there has been a decline of nearly 20,000 thefts compared to the same period last year. In Tennessee, data shows catalytic converter thefts have dropped 27.36% within that six-month period, with only 292 thefts reported so far this year.

The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department on June 8, 2022, released this image of seized catalytic converters (SBCSD)

While the data highlights a break in the trend of rising crime, the current theft rate is still far higher than in 2019, when there were only 27 catalytic converter thefts reported in the state. The largest increase was between 2021 and 2022, with 830 thefts reported by the end of the year.

Tennessee was also among the top 15 states with the largest rise in thefts between 2019 and 2020. However, researchers believe new legislation passed within the last few years and increased awareness on behalf of car owners might be playing a role in the recent decline.

According to BeenVerified, dozens of bills have been introduced by state legislatures since 2021 to combat the problem, including in Tennessee, where a consumer protection law putting new restrictions on the scrap metal trade took effect July 1, 2021.

Part of the rise in thefts has been correlated with the skyrocketing value of precious metals like platinum, palladium and rhodium. Catalytic converters can be sawed off and stolen in minutes by culprits who then resell them to recyclers for between $50 and $250 per part.

Catalytic converter thefts in Tennessee. (Courtesy: BeenVerified)

However, like many of the new pieces of legislation passed by various state legislatures in recent years, Tennessee’s consumer protection law has increased documentation requirements for buyers and sellers and created penalties for those who violate the law.

Anyone purchasing a detached catalytic converter in Tennessee must be registered as a scrap metal dealer, and buyers and sellers of unattached catalytic converters have to give written notification to the chief of police and sheriff of each city in which the activity occurs.

The dealer is also required to keep a copy of the seller’s license or a copy of the documentation and vehicle registration, and only licensed dealers are allowed to ship catalytic converters. A violation is considered a Class A misdemeanor, which can result in jail time or a $2,500 fine.

More states have enacted civil or criminal laws for buying stolen catalytic converters as of July 15, 2023. However, there are still some that have not passed laws pertaining to selling the stolen parts. Nearly all states have some documentation requirements for sales.

Since 2019, data shows New York has by far charted the highest percentage increase in catalytic converter thefts, with thefts up nearly 41,320% over the last four years, followed by Florida, Massachusetts and Texas.

However, New Jersey is the only state that has seen thefts increase within the first half of 2023, according to BeenVerified. Washington, Oregon and Hawaii have charted the largest annual decrease in thefts so far this year.

The apparent decline in thefts is good news for car owners, who’s average cost to replace the part is between $1,000 and $3,000, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau.