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SAN DIEGO — Thefts of catalytic converters are on the rise across San Diego County, and what you drive or where you park could make your vehicle a target.

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, said Oceanside police spokesman Tom Bussey.

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, said Lt. Ricardo Lopez with San Diego County Sheriff’s Department.

The sheriff’s department has seen a spike in thefts of the devices over the last few months, with North County being hit the hardest, Lopez told FOX 5.

In the city of San Diego, catalytic converter thefts increased by more than 600% from the first half of the year to the second, according to public records released by San Diego Police Department. Between July and December, nearly 250 devices were stolen.

The South Bay has also seen an upward trend in thefts. In Chula Vista, catalytic converter thefts more than doubled in the second half of 2020, according to public records released by Chula Vista Police Department.

Local law enforcement agencies have seen thefts occur in neighborhoods near main roads or freeways, at commercial establishments and in apartment parking lots.

Toyota Priuses are the most frequently targeted vehicles, Bussey said. Local Toyota dealerships have had a spike in customers needing their catalytic converters replaced.

“Two or three a week for probably the last four or five months,” said Larry Fogt, service director at Norm Reeves Toyota.

Fogt said inventory has been depleted and the devices are on backorder until March or April.

Robert Thacker, service manager at Mossy Toyota, said for the past couple of months, he has had drivers asking about replacements once or twice a week. Before that, it was only an issue every two or three months.

Replacing these devices isn’t cheap. A new catalytic converter can cost more than $3,000, Thacker said.

To prevent thefts, authorities 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.

Drivers can purchase security devices like Cat Shield or CatClamp, which generally cost less than $200. But service experts warn that these devices are simply deterrents that make thefts more difficult, but can’t prevent someone from stealing your catalytic converter.