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Car prowls up in December — and one target is catalytic converters

by: Merry MacKinnon As an anti-pollution device, a catalytic converter is part of a car's exhaust system, and is connected to the muffler. A thief probably targeted a Toyota pickup in Woodstock because this model’s catalytic converter, which contains precious metals, is mounted without welds.

One morning, a few months ago, a Woodstock resident started his Toyota pickup and was startled by the loud roar of the engine. It took the perplexed car owner awhile to discover that his truck's catalytic converter had been stolen.

'It sounded like a Ferrari,' exclaimed Edmund Chaney. 'I looked underneath the car and went, 'huh'.'

The theft of catalytic converters, which are anti-pollution devices connected to the mufflers in newer vehicles' exhaust systems, has been a problem locally and nationally in recent years because of the metals used within them. Catalytic converters contain platinum, as well as other sought-after metals.

Stealing a catalytic converter requires some planning, including targeting the vehicle and having the necessary tools to remove the converter. They then resell it. 'Those thieves are focused on catalytic converters,' explained Katherine Anderson, a crime-prevention coordinator with Portland's Office of Neighborhood Involvement. 'And they look for SUVs, Toyotas, and trucks.'

Especially Toyota trucks, says the owner of Darrel's Economy Mufflers on S.E. 82nd Avenue of Roses, Darrel Hanson said that when customers come to his shop to have their stolen catalytic converters replaced, 98 percent own Toyota pickups. 'Thieves target Toyota pickups, because their catalytic converters are mounted differently, without welding,' Hanson explained.

According to Joe DiOrio, owner of Old Car Parts on S.E. Powell Boulevard, thieves may use hacksaws, cordless reciprocating saws, or big metal cutting wrenches to remove welded catalytic converters from underneath vehicles.

These thefts peaked awhile back, but they still occur. 'A few years ago, there was a rash of catalytic converter thefts,' Anderson reflected. 'But now it's sporadic.'

Thefts of catalytic converters are categorized by police as 'car prowls' - even though car prowls are generally thought of as thefts of items left in the trunk, the glove compartment, and on or under the seat.

A lot of car prowls have been reported by neighborhood residents over the last decade. A common car prowl crime, called smash-and-grab, also occurs frequently, Anderson added. A smash-and-grab happens when, on the spur of the moment, a thief breaks a vehicle window and snatches change from the console, or a backpack or laptop from the seat.

Along with locking the car, the rule of thumb for preventing most car prowls is never to leave anything tempting in sight. Even a CD lying on the seat may be a way for a methamphetamine addict to get a couple of bucks at a pawn shop.

'As much as we try to tell people, they still leave visible things in their cars," Anderson sighed.

Even something as uninviting as the empty mount for a Global Positioning System device can persuade a thief to smash the car window and rifle in the glove compartment or under the seat, hoping to find the detached GPS device, said Anderson.

December is the month when car prowls spike, Barber commented. The other peak time is the end of the school year, when teenagers start their summer break.

'Make it as little attractive for thieves as you can," Barber advised.

And, to make your car's catalytic converter less vulnerable, have it spot welded more securely to the car, Anderson recommended. Hanson said prices depend on the make and other variables, but a new catalytic converter for a Toyota can range in price from $240 to $390. To replace the one stolen, Chaney paid $240 for a rebuilt model.

'We do quite a few of them,' Hanson remarked in his muffler shop. 'And, we always weld them on.'