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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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  • 238 Comments
      Suzy
      • 4 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!
      • 4 Months Ago
      MaxIceSka: Pretentious much? It's a legitimate alternative spelling. Take it down a notch, hoss.
      • 4 Months Ago
      make it simple to understand.put a sign on your car saying"you are dead guy" then shoot the bastard outright **** the law. word will go around and this **** will stop.
      dc walker
      • 4 Months Ago
      When California cleans up its illegal alien problem the rest of the country will pay attention to the thieves of California.
      boowah
      • 4 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!
      • 4 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.
      Scout
      • 4 Months Ago
      Its the new Obama job stimulus package STEAL WHAT YOU NEED !
      • 4 Months Ago
      THIS IS A VERY COMMON THEFT ITEM FOR MEXICANS IN FLORIDA BOTH AS THE THIEVES AND AS THE SCRAP YARD WORKERS THAT PURCHASE THEM. ILLEGAL ALIENS ARE TURNINF FLORIDA INTO A THIRD WORLD SLUM JUST LIKE MEXICO.
      Kapelusprime
      • 4 Months Ago
      This article sucked and it's info was taken from a someone who is easily taken to the cleaners by his "repair shop". First off welding the cat on is cheap, if they are charging you $200 to weld on your cat. Get a new auto tech. Cutting them off takes no more than a saws all or torch and 20 min. If your shop is charging you an hour labor over $48 an hour and they tell you it took them longer then 20 min. Again get a new repair shop. I you fail your emissions test and the cat is 5 years or less, if the shop tells you it is the cat. Ask to see the readout on the computer. More than likely the story will change to "We think it's the cat" O/2 sensor is more often the culprit but that's not always the case either. Big bad wolf story written by a sucker. get informed by your own means IE more than a junk article on AOL and stop getting taken to the cleaners.
      VINCENT
      • 4 Months Ago
      Drive a car, they are harder to get under. If it's a work truck, you can't park it on the street because it would have a "B" plate.
      • 4 Months Ago
      Just unchain Rottweiler before driving... My cat was stolen in New York; the car was parked on the street, in front of the apartment. Two gentleman come by in new Toyota, one got under the car (1990 Mazda) and they were gone in 30 seconds. Someone noted Toyota registration. Stolen plates, according to the police.
      • 4 Months Ago
      I have a 1990 Chevy Silverado. 5 years ago, I had it at a Goodyear repair shop. Left it there over night. Had never left it anywhere over night before. 2 years later, it will not pass smog test. It turns out that someone at Goodyear stole my original converter and replaced it with a piece converter. I was in disbelief when the mechanic told me that I did not have on the original converter. I could not prove that Goodyear did it, but they were the only ones who had worked on the truck. I hope that whoever stole it is dead.
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