SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KTXL) — More catalytic converters are stolen in California than any other state and the number of thefts of these devices from cars and trucks has soared more than 1,000% in the past five years, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau.
Earlier this month, police recovered at least 300 catalytic converters from a recycling business in Fremont. Investigators believe they had been stolen from vehicles and sold to the company.
This August at the Delta Shores shopping center in Sacramento, a shopper claims he caught a woman in the act trying to steal someone’s catalytic converter after sliding under their car in a busy parking lot in broad daylight.
Victims and law enforcement say that the theft of this auto part leaves them with the challenges of repairing damaged vehicles and having more organized thefts occurring throughout the state.
For Katrice Christian of Sacramento, her 2007 Toyota Sequoia helps her navigate a busy schedule as a single mother of four.
“This is my freedom. This is what gets us to where we’re supposed to go every day,” Christian said to FOX40 News.
But just last month — in broad daylight — Christian became another victim of increasing catalytic converter thefts in Northern California.
“I came outside, started my car like my normal schedule before I have to go to work and my car sounded like a race car,” she commented.
Home surveillance cameras captured the vehicle Christian believes dropped off the person who stole her catalytic converter, but he was in a blind spot and was not fully recorded on surveillance video.
Her SUV has two catalytic converters. The thief took the one on the right side. It cost Christian $2,000 for a new one, but she says that the emotional cost to her kids was much more.
“We were doing sports but since we had to pay for a new catalytic converter, there is no football or cheer right now,” Christian lamented.
Catalytic converter thefts have skyrocketed in California, from 1,300 reported thefts in 2018 to more than 52,000 in 2021. That is a 1,215 percent increase, according to data from Carfax.
Brian Cazares with Vega Auto Repair in Sacramento says he first noticed a spike in catalytic converter thefts last year. Since then, the number of victims walking into the shop has been rising, too.
“We get between 6 to 8 every month,” Cazares said to FOX40 News.
A catalytic converter changes the harmful compounds from your engine’s emissions into safe gases before they’re released into the air. Without it working properly, your car won’t pass a smog check, which is needed to register your vehicle.
So why is it that thieves are after your catalytic converter? They want precious metals like platinum, palladium and rhodium that are inside of these catalytic converters. The value of these has drastically increased over the last few years.
While any vehicle can be a target…some are more enticing than others.
Cazares says that the cars most often missing a catalytic converter are different Honda and Toyota models.
According to Carfax, the ten most targeted vehicles on the West Coast include Toyota Prius, Ford F Series, Honda Accord, Ford Econoline, Chevrolet Silverado, Subaru Outback, Jeep Patriot, Honda Element, Subaru Forester and the Toyota Tacoma.
“All it takes is someone rolling underneath your car with a tool and within 30 seconds they can be gone with a catalytic converter,” Sgt. Nick Goucher of the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office said to FOX40 News.
For law enforcement agencies investigating catalytic converter thefts, these crimes pose unique challenges.
“Not a lot of easy, usable fingerprints, not a lot of evidence left behind,” Goucher said. “They usually take all their tools and the catalytic converter with them so there’s not a lot left for us to go on unless we get lucky and there happens to be surveillance in the area.”
In San Joaquin County alone, calls for catalytic converter thefts have increased more than 10 times since 2018.
In the county, the number of thefts went from 38 in 2018 to 92 in 2019, 210 in 2020 and then in 2021, 512 people reported their catalytic converter had been stolen, and they’re on track to reach similar numbers this year with 227 theft reports made so far.
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Sgt. Goucher tells FOX40 News that these crimes usually come in clusters, with thieves often hitting multiple cars in a neighborhood or parking area.
“Each catalytic converter, they’re not serialized, there’s no markings to identify which vehicle they came from so one of the things we encourage people to do is etching license plate numbers or driver’s license numbers into the catalytic converter so if we do happen to recover them, we have something to tie it back to an actual victim.”
There are some ways for you to try and prevent your precious metal from being snatched. Safety devices like a catalytic converter motion-based alarm goes for around $30.
There are also other options like a protection shield that costs about $60 or a cat clamp that’ll cost you a couple hundred dollars.
As for Christian, she knows she’ll likely never see her stolen catalytic converter again, a situation that others face and that leaves them figuring out how to pay thousands of dollars for a new one.
“It’s frustrating because we’re lower income families trying to make it through life. Please stop taking from us.,” Christian pleaded. “We can’t afford it. It’s rough. If you want to go steal from someone, steal from yourself. Take your own catalytic converter and go cash it in.”