Catalytic converters stolen from school buses in at least two districts have added to the crunch of school bus challenges this year.

In Burlington County, 12 of the extremely valuable auto parts were cut and taken from buses in Westampton Township over the weekend, according to police.

Converters were cut from the vehicles’ remaining exhaust systems between Friday and Monday, as investigators found a rear fence around the parking lot had been damaged.

The impacted buses are owned by the Burlington County Special Services School and Burlington County Institute of Technology, which had to provide "alternative educational interventions" for the small number of students impacted by the stalled buses, according to Burlington County Special Services Superintendent of Schools Christopher Nagy.

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Further north in Essex County, eight catalytic converters were recently stolen from buses used by South Orange-Maplewood schools following the severe damages of Ida, a spokesperson for the district confirmed.

The South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education on Monday night approved a resolution that authorizes the transfer of "surplus or other un-budgeted or under-budgeted revenue" to cover the cost of replacing school buses, as well as maintenance vehicles damaged by the severe storms, the spokesperson continued.

There have been “about 100” catalytic converter thefts so far this year in Westampton, alone, Police Lt. Brain Ferguson told the Burlington County Times.

Private drivers have been dealing with the brazen thefts, too, as seen on a home’s Nest camera in Monmouth County last week.

Why are catalytic converters so valuable?

A catalytic converter (as sold alone on Amazon) is part of a vehicle’s exhaust system. It contains precious metals like platinum, palladium and rhodium, since they are resistant to high temperature corrosion and oxidation.

What is being done in NJ to curb such theft?

The spike in such thefts led to the creation of the North Hudson Catalytic Converter Task Force over the summer. The task force includes police in Union City, North Bergen, Weehawken and West New York as well as the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office.

“You have to get rid of the problem by cracking down on these thieves,” Michael Miller, ISRI New Jersey Chapter president, said in a written release in July.

The International Association of Auto Theft Investigators (IAATI) has recommended its own model legislation to try and deter catalytic converter theft, as outlined in its September newsletter.

What is the penalty for stealing these parts?

Under current law In New Jersey, catalytic converter thieves face a disorderly persons offense for their first or second violation and fourth-degree felony charges for subsequent offenses, as reported by ISRI in its July release.

A conviction of a disorderly persons offense carries up to six months’ jail time and a $1,000 fine, while convictions of a fourth-degree felony can result in up to 18 months in prison and fines of up to $10,000.

What can vehicle owners do to protect catalytic converters?

There are metal shields sold online, which attempt to make cutting the connecting piece more challenging to would-be thieves, with apparent mixed reviews.

Another, similar device for sale is called a “CatClamp Catalytic Converter Lock.”

Law enforcement in Minnesota have advised motorists to have a vehicle’s VIN or license plate engraved onto the part itself.

In California, an “etch and catch” program involving some local auto businesses was put together by a county sheriff’s office, which helped etch drivers’ license plate numbers onto their converters and then spray paint it brightly, as a possible deterrent to thieves.

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