Thursday, March 27, 2008

Inland Catalytic-Converter Thieves Cashing In Soaring Metal Prices (The Press Enterprise Thursday, March 27, 2008) Just to bad that the world is crimi

BS Ranch Perspective

When there is a value to something on your care even that is at a cost that is so much, they will steal the car just to get the part from it, or they will take the part while it is parked at a Park and ride in San Bernardino or Fontana at the I-10 or I-15 where they Parked their vehicle to go into a Car Pool that morning by the afternoon they crawled into their car, they had a straight pipe that was illegal running against the Emission laws of the state, but the people that did the crime got up to $200 a car/truck!! 

It is bad news ,but it is old news and it is the one thing that is Job Security for Law Enforcement Officers in every City around the land!! It is sad, and to bad, but hopefully the Police Departments can get a handle on it and catch the people before the problem. It is difficult however. 

BS Ranch

Inland catalytic-converter thieves cashing in soaring metal prices

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10:04 PM PDT on Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Press-Enterprise

Driven by soaring metal prices, thefts of the anti-pollution devices on cars and trucks have taken off in the past year, police say.

Catalytic converters can be plucked from vehicles' undercarriage and are in high demand on the scrap-metal recycling market because they contain the precious metals platinum, palladium and rhodium.

There are only tiny amounts of these metals in a catalytic converter, but the current per-ounce prices for platinum, now around $2,000, and rhodium, about $9,000, are making the devices worth stealing.

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Greg Vojtko/The Press-Enterprise
Roger Bacon, owner of Roger's Exhaust Shop in Fontana, replaces a catalytic converter. Thefts of the devices have been increasing.

Some catalytic converters fetch $200 apiece or more. But for a vehicle owner who must replace a stolen one, the cost can be as much as $1,000.

Some drivers may not know a catalytic converter from an alternator, but they are sure to miss it when it is gone.

"It makes a horrendous noise," said Roger Bacon, owner of Roger's Exhaust Shop in Fontana, explaining that when the catalytic converter is removed, the exhaust flows straight from the engine, not through the muffler.

Bacon said in recent months, he has received perhaps 20 calls a week from people whose vehicles' catalytic converters have been stolen.

"I really feel bad for these people," Bacon said.

Doug Calton, of Fontana, said the catalytic converter was stolen from his early-1990s-model Toyota pickup at 5 a.m. in front of his house. He saw the thief but did not realize what was happening.

"I went out to start my truck ... and it sounded like a tank!"

Calton said the theft occurred in February 2007. When he reported it to police, they wondered why someone would steal a catalytic converter, Calton said. By now, they know only too well.

Thefts Rampant

"About a year ago, we started getting hit really hard," said San Bernardino County sheriff's Deputy Roger Young, who works exclusively in metal theft. Since then, he said, thefts of catalytic converters have increased in many areas of the county, particularly Rancho Cucamonga, Fontana and San Bernardino.

"It's phenomenal," he said. "There's people on the Internet buying them."

Young said he has noticed that Toyota pickups and some Lexus models are being targeted, in part because of a higher precious-metal content in those models.

"It's gotten to the point where people drive their cars to work, park them, go inside, and when they come back out, the catalytic converters are gone."

Frank Scafidi, spokesman for the National Insurance Crime Bureau, said thieves will go to a parking lot during the night "and they just have a field day."

Usually, thieves look for vehicles with a high ground clearance, such as trucks and SUVs. An experienced thief with a battery-powered reciprocating saw can cut off a catalytic converter in two minutes. On some vehicles, the thief only has to loosen a few bolts.

"Some knucklehead will steal one of these and go into a salvage yard, and they're easy to get rid of," Scafidi said.

Even if victims report the thefts to police, the cases often never reach an investigator's desk or result in an arrest because there usually are no leads to follow. The thieves slip away, and there is no way to trace a stolen catalytic converter to its owner.

"I hate to say this because it drives me nuts -- it's a unidentifiable-victim crime," Young said.

What is more, police are being inundated with all manner of metal thefts now, from copper wire to backflow valves to brass plaques. Catalytic-converter thefts alone pale by comparison, police say.

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Greg Vojtko/The Press-Enterprise
Roger Bacon shows how much of a gap a missing catalytic converter creates in an exhaust system. The thieves who have been stealing the devices off high-clearance vehicles make as much as $200 selling one. A replacement costs the vehicle's owner $1,000.

Bob Palmer is the chief financial officer of The Recycler Core, a Riverside company that accepts catalytic converters. He said the thefts have become so rampant that legitimate buyers are taking measures to protect themselves. The Riverside business's employees demand detailed information from anyone they do not recognize who is selling catalytic converters. They photograph the sellers and their license plate numbers, ask them to document that the property is theirs and even get thumbprints.

It is difficult to distinguish stolen catalytic converters from the rest, Palmer said, but anyone trying to sell new ones sends up a red flag.

For thieves, though, new vehicles can be easy targets. Palmer said the company was recently contacted by railroad detectives investigating the theft of catalytic converters from brand-new Toyotas and Lexus SUVs aboard rail cars.

Park-and-Rides Hit

In Riverside County, California Highway Patrol Sgt. Patrick Rowe said catalytic converters began disappearing from Toyota pickups and other vehicles at the Park-and-Ride on Main Street in December. For several weeks, the thieves were stealing one or two per day, Rowe said.

On the second day of a sting operation, investigators caught a thief in the act, Rowe said.

"It was the weirdest thing to see. ... He moved so fast. He was under cars, on all fours, just like a cat," Rowe said.

"These guys are good," said Clarence Bullen, a CHP investigator.

Bullen said the thief, Sergio Avitia, 32, of Lake Elsinore, was caught with several catalytic converters in his possession. Two female accomplices were also arrested. Investigators suspect that Avitia also stole catalytic converters from a Park-and-Ride in Lake Elsinore.

Avitia pleaded guilty to one count of grand theft and has already been released after serving a jail sentence.

Bacon, the exhaust shop owner, said thieves sometimes park their own cars nearby and have a lookout put the hood up to suggest car trouble. Meanwhile, the thief is under the target vehicle.

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That is what happened to one Press-Enterprise employee. The catalytic converter was stolen from his Toyota pickup around lunchtime in the parking lot of the newspaper's Riverside office.

Brian Carter, who works in the advertising department, said he looked out the window and saw people around a car parked behind his pickup. He assumed they were having a problem with their car.

When Carter left work at 5, he said, "I saw nuts and bolts under my car -- sure enough, my 'cat' was gone."

Fontana police have investigated about 20 thefts of catalytic converters since the middle of last year, a department spokesman said. Among the victims: at least one member of the department.

"A captain just lost his two weeks ago in front of his house in broad daylight," said Sgt. Jeff Decker. "There were three bolts laying next to his truck. He started looking around ... and found this big opening where the catalytic converter had been."

Staff writers Paul LaRocco and Rich Brooks contributed to this report.

Reach Sarah Burge at 951-375-3736 or


Vehicle owners can do little to protect their catalytic converters from a determined thief, police say. They do offer these suggestions, however:

Park in a secure garage whenever possible. When you can't, stick to high-traffic areas where a thief will have a harder time slipping under your vehicle unnoticed.

Check if the catalytic converter is only bolted on. If it is, have it welded too.

Etch your driver's license, vehicle identification or license plate number onto the catalytic converter so police can trace it back to you.


High-clearance vehicles on which the catalytic converter is easily accessible.

  • Toyota pickups and SUVs, such as the Tacoma, Tundra and 4Runner
  • Lexus SUVs

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