Akron's Giant Auto Parts finds niche testing used catalytic converters – Akron Beacon Journal

Car parts are everywhere at Art Krakauer’s establishment.
In boxes on the floor, on shelves in the storage area to the left of the front counter, in boxes on those shelves, on top of boxes and in numbered boxes on shelves behind the counter. Then, there are the parts in boxes on top of boxes with parts.
His business, the North Hill fixture Giant Auto Parts, has been buying and selling auto parts, salvaging vehicles and servicing them since 1930. Krakauer hasn’t been around that long, but he has a few decades behind him at the Tallmadge Avenue location and has seen a lot of changes in his business.
One that disturbs him — enough to write a letter in support of proposed state legislation — is catalytic converter theft.
More:A brief history of Akron man’s effort to stop the theft of his catalytic converter
More:An exhausting blow to the budget: Catalytic converter thefts increase in Akron area
He knows about the troubling increase in converter theft from media reports and he knows more directly from phone calls he receives from individual sellers. 
Will Giant Auto Parts buy a converter off them?
No, Krakauer says. No, he won’t.
“We do get lots and lots of phone calls from them,” Krakauer said Wednesday at his establishment. “If we could have an unlimited supply of converters, we could sell a ton of them.”
Which leads to another concern. People don’t understand the salvage business, he said. He doesn’t buy from individuals, getting his parts from purchasing salvage vehicles. What he doesn’t want or can’t use is sold to another sector of the industry, scrap dealers.
And people aren’t aware that used converters, in accordance with strict regulations, can be reused. He established that fact three decades ago with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, he said.
“We went to the EPA [office] in Michigan,” Krakauer said. “[We] met with the staff there and said, ‘We would like to start selling used catalytic converters.’ “
At first, the EPA staffers were skeptical. But Krakauer’s technician at the time convinced them his testing regimen met increasingly tough emissions standards and complied with Clean Air Act requirements.
“It was obvious to them that we knew what we were doing,” Krakauer said.
Giant Auto Parts built a testing system for used catalytic converters that is more sensitive than E-Check testing equipment. Over the years, he said, it’s demonstrated that used original equipment converters perform better than aftermarket converters.
If an OE converter is obviously damaged, Krakauer’s team won’t bother to test it. It’s sold to a scrap dealer, and in rare cases sent to one of two locations in the U.S. that rebuild OE converters.
Those that are tested overwhelmingly pass — about 95%, he said.
“We have yet to have an aftermarket converter pass our test,” he said. “The quality of the OE converter is vastly superior.”
The original equipment converters are required to last eight years or 80,000 miles, but Krakauer said under normal conditions, they last much longer. Aftermarket converters are required to last two years.
“It’s really supposed to last the life of the vehicle,” he said. “Lead will ruin a catalytic converter. Too rich of an air-fuel mix, that will kill a converter.”
If the converter passes, Giant Auto Parts labels it with a part number and date.
“There’s only one other salvage yard in the U.S. that will test … used converters like we do,” he said.
Despite the performance advantage of OE converters, Krakauer said, most customers opt for aftermarket converters. Many have older cars and only need to keep the old beater on the road a couple more years. 
For customers who plan to keep their vehicles longer, though, he says the OE converters, if they’re available, are the best choice.
Last week, after talking with the staff of state Rep. Bob Young, Krakauer sent a letter in support of legislation designed to stem the outbreak of converter thefts. He said his support was conditional on the effect of the legislation.
“It appears as if the intent of HB [House Bill] 408 is to encourage legitimate businesses and discourage theft,” he wrote. “As long as that is true, I am in full support of this legislation.”
Krakauer said most converters stolen in the area end up being sold out of state. So any legislation passed on the state level will have limited success.
“They’ll find a place they can go to sell [the converters],” he said. “They’ll go to Mexico.”
Krakauer said converters make up a very small part of his business. In the 1980s and 1990s, radiators were a huge part of his sales.
“We were buying from manufacturers,” he said. “We would buy 1,000 radiators at a time. … We were selling to radiator shops all over the country.”
But parts have become an increasingly smaller part of the business. Instead, Giant Auto Parts is focusing on service and repair, with 10 auto service bays onsite. 
“The business has changed dramatically,” he said. “The salvage part of the business has declined. More than one-third of the [auctioned] cars are going overseas. The prices have gone through the roof.” 
Leave a message for Alan Ashworth at 330-996-3859 or email him at aashworth@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter at @newsalanbeaconj.


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