(WIVB) — The state DMV is launching a new program to slam the brakes on people stealing catalytic converters. It is a growing problem nationwide, and New York could be the first state to take on these scavengers.

A catalytic converter is an emission control device, about the size of a loaf of bread, that is inserted into your car’s exhaust system. To do its job, a catalytic converter contains a number of precious metals, such as rhodium, that are worth more than gold.

Nationwide crime figures show the theft of catalytic converters jumped by more than 1,200 percent, over a two-year period. DMV Commissioner Mark Schroeder says the state is now taking on thieves, head-on.

“To address and deter the staggering surge in catalytic converter thefts that are happening across the nation,” said Mark Schroeder, commissioner, DMV.

Thieves can get under a car, truck, or bus, with a hacksaw or power tool and cut off the catalytic converter in a few minutes, and officials say are targeting new car lots, but anyone can be a victim.

“It has expanded to people’s driveways, it has expanded to supermarkets and schools, medical equipment, medical trucks. So this is a growing crime that we need to attack,” added Paul Stasiak, Niagara Frontier Auto Dealers Association.

The DMV plans to slow down thieves with an etching kit, using acid that etches a serial number into the catalytic converter, the number is registered online with the car’s VIN. Just the sight of the label under the car can be a deterrent.

“These thefts often result in an additional $5,000 to $10,000 in damage to the vehicle,” Schroeder said.

But with new catalytic converters on backorder for as long as 60-to-90 days, a theft can get very expensive and troublesome to a car owner.

“But if you don’t have any insurance to cover that part of it then you are out on your own. Then you’ve got to find alternate means and there could be a lengthy time until they find the parts for that particular car,” said Kevin Gallagher, National Insurance Crime Bureau. Paying out of pocket? “Yes,” Gallagher said.

The DMV is partnering with State Police, the National Insurance Crime Bureau, and Anti-Car Theft Fraud officials to provide thousands of those etching kits to car dealerships across the state.

If you are interested, talk to a new car dealer.

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Al Vaughters is an award-winning investigative reporter who has been part of the News 4 team since 1994. See more of his work here. To submit a Call 4 Action, click here.