Catalytic converters are part of a vehicle’s exhaust system that turn pollutants in gas into harmless substances. They contain precious metals like platinum, palladium and rhodium, which make them attractive to thieves who can turn around and sell them. Using a saw or a snipping tool, thieves can snag a catalytic converter from underneath a car in just a matter of minutes, Oceanside police spokesman Tom Bussey said earlier this year, when FOX 5 took a closer look at the growing trend.
Thieves may then illegally pawn the devices, sell them to muffler shops, advertise them on online marketplaces like Craigslist or OfferUp, or take them south across the U.S.-Mexico border, authorities say.
Local mechanics say converter replacements have become a commonplace part of their busy workload. They say the most frequent targets are hybrids from the early 2000s, like Priuses, because their design makes the converters easily accessible and they contain more of the precious metals the crooks are after.
“How many get stolen every night in San Diego County? 100-150? I don’t know, but they can’t catch them all,” Todd Phillips, a mechanic at Del Mar Auto, told FOX 5.
The cost can be a nightmare for drivers, with a replacement running some San Diegans as much as $4,000, according to Phillips.
A “Cat Shield” or similar device, which creates a metal barrier over your converter, is one protective option. It doesn’t make the device impossible to remove, but creates enough of a deterrent that the thief might choose to target someone else’s vehicle. “There’s just a lot more work and time that are unnecessary,” explained another local mechanic, Josh Horn.
To prevent thefts, authorities also recommend parking in a garage, a well-lit area, near building entrances or in high-traffic areas. Drivers should also purchase cameras that capture where they park, have their catalytic converters welded to their vehicles and calibrate their vehicle security systems to detect vibration, Bussey said.