It’s an unfortunate staple of the South Pasadena Police Department’s weekly crime report, and often warrants its own separate category. Seven catalytic converters were reported stolen from vehicles during the month of December, alone.
The part is a relatively innocuous component of an automobile’s exhaust system, but a valuable target of thieves looking to make quick buck. Or $50.
That’s the going rate for the precious metals — rhodium, platinum and palladium — that are found in each device, which are relatively easy to access due to their location on the vehicle.
“Two cuts,” said Detective Richard Lee, the SPPD’s crime prevention officer and crime analyst, describing the relatively simple process. “We have seen videos and it takes less than a minute.”
Thieves use portable, battery-powered hand saws to make the necessary incisions required to remove the devices, which weigh about 10 pounds and are approximately 24 inches in length. Located between the engine and exhaust pipe, the catalytic converter removes noxious gases and particles from the car’s emission.
Thefts of catalytic converters are “skyrocketing,” in Lee’s words, in South Pasadena and throughout the San Gabriel Valley. Toyotas are especially vulnerable, and sport utility vehicles — SUVs — and pickup trucks are also popular due to the relative ease of access, as they are higher off the ground.
“They just crawl under the car and they are gone,” said Lee. “SUVs used to be the targeted vehicle but now it’s everything.”
Catalytic converters are much easier to swipe than to replace. A standard device will cost the victim approximately $1,000, though some fetch a much higher price tag. An insurance claim may even require a substantial deductible.
“It’s not easy,” said Lee. “A vehicle part is outside your car, so it’s not like you can lock it up. I have seen aftermarket products that require welding a rebar-like material around the converter. It will deter the thief, but not guarantee that it won’t get taken. Maybe a thief will say ‘this one is too much trouble’ and go away.”
Lee said that some recommend engraving your driver’s license into the catalytic converter for identification purposes.
“If someone is pulled over and has several catalytic converters in his possession, we would have a way to trace it back,” Lee said.
Otherwise, the SPPD suggests that residents park at night in a well-lit area, be suspicious of anyone looking under cars or anyone working under cars during hours of darkness. Lee also urged residents to call the SPPD if they hear the sound of an electric saw at off-hours. Thieves also look for vehicles parked in large open lots and often use a lookout.
“The bulk of thefts take place at night,” Lee said.”
For more information, visit marengopta.org.