VISTA — Even if a vehicle is locked, the alarm is set and valuables are hidden, there’s a precious metal that thieves are crawling underneath of trucks for and ripping off in just a matter of minutes.
It’s the catalytic converter, which is part of the exhaust, and can cost a vehicle owner more than a $1,000 to replace.
In Vista, at least eight of these have recently been reported stolen, according to the San Diego County Sheriff’s Station.
“People’s catalytic converters have been getting stolen for the past month or so, but it’s been dying down,” said Detective John Hintz of the county’s sheriff’s station in Vista.
He said that the thefts have happened in locations such as businesses, parking lots and street parking.
Hintz said that people should park in a secure area because most vehicle alarms don’t detect the part being removed.
The catalytic converter became mandated in 1975 for all U.S. cars and trucks, and works by converting harmful emissions into less harmful fumes before the fumes leave the exhaust system, according to Edmunds.com, an automotive website that is a popular reference used in the automotive industry.
The catalyst is comprised of platinum, palladium, gold or rhodium, which thieves can sell to recyclers for $20 to $200, depending on the type of metals used.
But the catalytic converters that were stolen locally aren’t ending up at local recyclers.
“They’re selling them across the border,” Hintz said. “That we know of.”
According to Edmunds.com, the replacement cost of a catalytic converter is at least $1,000.
But if the vehicle’s wiring or fuel line was damaged during the theft, that cost would increase substantially, as would the danger involved if a person drove the car with wiring or fuel line damage.
According to the North County Times, in 2008 there were also eight catalytic converters reported stolen in Murrieta within a three-month period.
That report said that victims of this automobile part usually can’t see that they have been victimized but know something is wrong as soon as they start the engine because of the loud vibration and noise the vehicle makes in the absence of the catalytic converter.
In some cases the converter is removed by using only a wrench to loosen some bolts, but the reciprocating saw is the main tool of choice for thieves.
Fred Hebert, vice president of Discount Converters LTD., a Texas-based location that claims to be the Internet’s foremost supplier of catalytic converters, said that the theft of these items off of vehicles has been taking place for four to five years.
“It’s nothing that’s new. It’s been rampant and an ongoing thing, he said.
He said the ones that are legitimately disposed of come from places such as a muffler shop or auto shop.
“Somebody will pay them because they want to extract the precious metals,” he said.
Hebert said that trucks, vans and service vehicles are the main targets for thieves because of the amount of room available to get underneath of them.
CatClamp makes an after market theft deterrent lock for catalytic converters that sell for between $149 and 319.