Catalytic Converter, Are You There? ‘Virtual Lift’ Camera Checks

  • ACV, an auto-auction specialist, has been selling its Virtual Lift tools for three years, but a new update fits well with our pandemic times.
  • Machine learning updates in the Virtual Lift software make it possible to automatically spot missing catalytic converters, which have been a popular target for thieves for the past few years.
  • Compared to 2019, catalytic converter thefts were up fourfold in 2020 and 13 times higher in 2021.

Anyone worried about buying a used car that’s had its catalytic converter stolen might have started checking out listings with pictures taken from under the car. One provider of simplified undercarriage images is the Virtual Lift hardware and software package from ACV, which just updated the machine learning software so that it can confirm if catalytic converters are where they’re supposed to be.

To use Virtual Lift, someone drives a vehicle over a small piece of proprietary hardware, which then generates a high-resolution, full-length image of the underside of the car. New detection algorithms in the software now check the image for the converters, and ACV claims the system has “extremely high accuracy.” The idea for car dealers is they can quickly drive a car they’re thinking of buying over the Virtual Lift and confirm they’ll be getting a complete car, not one that needs an expensive component replaced.

When Virtual Lift was introduced three years ago, before the pandemic, catalytic converters were not even mentioned in the announcement. At the time, the benefits of Virtual Lift were more general, offering “high-resolution undercarriage reconstructions” that took less than a minute to capture. ACV said dealers and car sellers who used Virtual Lift would benefit from this kind of transparency, offering the digital reconstruction to be uploaded using the ACV app and then provided to potential buyers.

ACV’s Virtual Lift technology is not new. ACV first introduced the undercarriage photography tool in 2019 but has been promoting Virtual Lift during the pandemic as a way for car shoppers to make sure they’re buying a car with a catalytic converter. It’s been a real worry these past few years. Converter thefts per month were four times higher in 2020 compared to 2019, according to a March 2021 study by the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB). And the trend continued into 2021, according to the latest data, when catalytic converter thefts were 13 times higher than in 2019. The State Farm insurance company said it saw a 293 percent increase in catalytic converter theft in the year that ended June 30, 2021 , compared to the 12-month period that ended a year earlier.

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Catalytic Converter, Are You There? ‘Virtual Lift’ Camera Checks
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