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California resident Victor Murillo was recently awakened at 3:00 in the morning by a loud metallic thud outside his apartment window. Thinking the sound was made by a garbage truck, he rolled over and went back to sleep. But when he emerged from his apartment to go to work and started up his Toyota Tacoma, the engine sounded like a small volcano erupting. The din was loud enough to wake a neighbor, and while Murillo shut off the truck and wondered what could possibly be making so much racket, the neighbor emerged and delivered bad news.

"I know that noise," he said. "That's the sound of a stolen catalytic converter."

In less than the three minutes it took a thief to unbolt the converter and take off, Murillo was out $250 in theft insurance deductible dollars and had to do without his work truck for the two days it took the local mechanic to install a new unit.

"I wasn't really angry," he told AOL Autos. "I just wanted my truck back."

Catalytic converters, which convert engine pollutants into less harmful emissions before they leave a vehicle's exhaust system, have been mandated on all American cars since 1975. In recent years, however, converter thefts have massively increased as the market for the their precious metals, including trace amounts of palladium, rhodium and platinum, have skyrocketed.

The problem is so acute that California passed a law in January 2010 mandating that recyclers document each converter brought in to be sold for scrap and create a paper trail to deter the theft and resale of the units.

"It has gotten to the point where everyone knows someone who has had their catalytic converter removed illegally from their vehicle", says California Senator Ron Calderon, who wrote the bill. "Stolen catalytic converters fetch between $50-$150 at scrap yards. And yet they cost between $300-$3000 to replace."

The new legislation requires all businesses to document converter sales, their date and locations as well as taking a photo or short video of the seller, and the records must be retained for two years. If you're selling a used converter, the recycler has to pay you by check either mailed to your residence or place of business, or picked up after a three-day delay.

Sound harsh, or Orwellian? Maybe. But since there isn't any method of catalytic converter theft prevention that seems to work, something clearly needed to be done to slow down rings of thieves who drive around all day and night stealing the units. The problem isn't limited to California, either. During the weekend of January 15, 19 cars at a used car dealership in New Jersey were relieved of their converters, and a quick "Catalytic converter stolen" net search reveals similar recent thefts all over the U.S.A. The sloppier crooks can also damage a car's fuel line or wiring, necessitating more costly repairs and inconvenience.

Nationwide Insurance recently published a list of ways motorists can deter converter thieves, including:

- parking your vehicle in well-populated, well-lit areas

- installing conspicuous video surveillance cameras outside homes

- parking your vehicle in a closed, locked garage

- watching local news to monitor epidemics of local converter thefts so as to take extra precautions

- etching the car's VIN number on the converter to make it easier to identify a ring of thieves in the future

Converter etching may sound like overkill, but Senator Calderon doesn't think so, saying, "Some people have had their cars vandalized multiple times and often from their own driveways."

Nationwide also recommend having the converter welded to the frame of your vehicle, but that also brings new issues to deal with.

Murillo, whose Tacoma is one of the most popular targets for thieves due to their easily removable bolted converters, says, "I looked into welding and I found that auto shops can do it around here for about $200, but if you don't pass inspection in the future and need to remove your catalytic converter and/or muffler, you cost yourself even more money because they have to go through the welds just like a thief would."

There are also many aftermarket units meant to deter catalytic converter theft, including the CatClamp which features a stainless steel cable its website claims is "virtually impossible to cut."

Experts aren't so sure, though. "CatClamps are pretty easy to remove," says Popular Mechanics Senior Editor Mike Allen, who has made a career out of testing and praising or debunking aftermarket products. "Especially if you have a 4x4 pickup or SUV that has enough room for the perp to slide under. The cable severs readily with a big bolt cutter or a cordless cutoff wheel."

The best deterrent in the end, Allen says, is "A big Rottweiler chained to the bumper."


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  • 239 Comments
      Suzy
      • 5 Months Ago
      Most of these prevention tips are really common sense.. However, the etching tip is actually a really good idea and came in handy when I had my bike stolen, several years ago. I was just a teenager back then, and I just received a new bicycle, and I loved it. I don't know what made me do it, but I etched my social security number undernearth the seat. Lo and behold, my bike was stolen by the brat up the street, but kept insisting it was his.. Yeah, ok, how would this little punk really get away with this? He didn't, and when the cops looked, underneath the seat and saw it matched up with my card, they weren't too happy!
      • 5 Months Ago
      Cars are now equiped with devices that are similar to an alarm only this is a # combination that locks the car and if someone tries to break-in or open the hood, the car explodes and takes the thief with them! Insurance covers everything because crime is down, taxes are down, prisons are less crowded, courts are less crowded, less police needed and everyone wins! Just a thought.
      steveray3rd
      • 5 Months Ago
      And I'm going to listen to a senator tell me how to protect my self from theives.....hell, they are the biggest theives of all.........
      john
      • 5 Months Ago
      Obama has a team of professional thieves stealing your income on a dialy basis
      darthofer
      • 5 Months Ago
      It's a proven fact all you need is a sticker in the window that says car alarmed vehicle.. they move on to the next car right away.
      • 5 Months Ago
      MaxIceSka: Pretentious much? It's a legitimate alternative spelling. Take it down a notch, hoss.
      • 5 Months Ago
      move to fla get out of the blue states or change them!
      boowah
      • 5 Months Ago
      How about wrapping the converter in barbed wire? That should cut them up pretty good! Another idea is taping a fused road flare to the floor pan aimed directly at the converter. When the converter drops, the road flare ignites, blinding the thief permanently! "Hey, in this world today, all methods of protecting your property are justifiable!
      • 5 Months Ago
      A friend of my dad's caught someone stealing his battery late at night. He went out his back door and around the side of the care, real quiet, and then put the muzzle of his double barrel shot gun to the guy's head and quietly asked him "whatcha doin?" The man never shot the guy, but my dad's friend talked for days about the last he saw of the guy after he said "git" - just rear end and shoe soles. Come to think about it, after that happened, no one ever messed with dad's friend again or his property.
      vetracer119
      • 5 Months Ago
      If we just ban the recyclers from taking them the problem would be gone. I also think handle it like they did in the old days, when they get caught give the owner 5 minutes with the theif. I would knock the crap out of them. Nothing worse than someone who takes something that does not belong to them. I had my motorcycle stolen when I was a teenager, I found the guy riding my bike in the desert one day, I called the cops and we caught him. The cops made the guy give me all the money out of his wallet and let me beat the crap out of him with their billy clubs. By the way he had 600.00 and this was back in the seventies.
      ickster01
      • 5 Months Ago
      You kinda have to wonder how the thief removed it in 10 minutes, but it is going to take a trained mechanic 2 days to replace it? And if the converter is so valuable, then how come there is no core charge? I know, because my VW Jetta needs a new one. $420 to replace, but they don't want the old one back. Sounds like a scam to me. Oh...and don't try to go get one at a junk yard. They are illegal to resell (at least in Mass...but this state is nuts)
      Dick
      • 5 Months Ago
      1) Catch the thieves. 2) Make them rebuild the city,state infrastructure. 3) Make them pay back, out of their wages, all costs, including owner reimbursement, court costs, etc. 4) Let them go after they have paid their debt.
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