Bulging in the exhaust system like a rabbit deep in the belly of a boa, the catalytic converter cleans engine fumes before they are released into the air. To the inexperienced, the oversized metal cylinder looks rather uninteresting. To a thief, it is a pod of precious metal worth nearly $200 on the black market.

Catalytic converters are loaded with small amounts of precious metals including platinum, palladium and rhodium. When combined with hot exhaust gasses, a chemical reaction detoxifies the pollutants (this all happens without any trip to a Malibu clinic). All the average Joe really needs to know is that every car and truck is supposed to have one.

This low-lying fruit for the criminals hangs within easy reach under many sport-utility vehicles. Sitting taller than your average passenger car, their cats are easy to steal, and often don't even require the vehicle to be lifted for access. According to police, the Toyota 4Runner and Kia Sportage are the running favorites.

Unless it is your normal dwelling, there is no need to sleep underneath your vehicle with a shotgun; innovative consumers have found that spot-welding the catalytic converter to the rest of the exhaust system has proven to be an effective deterrent.

[Source: MSNBC via Winding Road]