Photo of the underside of a vehicle after its catalytic... Photo of the underside of a vehicle after its catalytic converter was stolen (sidewalk flying, Flickr).
Three minutes. Two cuts. One saw.

That's all it takes to steal the catalytic converter out from underneath a car. "You get under there, zip-zip, and take it off," Jeff Prior, the manager of a transmission store in Warren, Mich., tells The Detroit News.

Thefts of catalytic converters -- tube-like pipes that reduce pollution from exhaust systems -- are on the rise. More than 100 catalytic converter thefts have been reported in the three-county Detroit metro area in recent months, according to the newspaper.

And Detroit's not alone. From California to New York, converter thefts are on the rise across the country. The converters are valuable because they contain precious metals, such as palladium, platinum and rhodium. A rise in the value of precious metals combined with ongoing economic struggles is to blame for the spike in converter thefts, experts tell USA Today.

Thieves can sell the stolen parts to scrap yards for anywhere from $100 to $200 per part. Repairs for the victimized car owners are significantly more expensive, running anywhere from $300 to $2,000 depending on the vehicle and the skill of the crook, who could slice through fuel lines and other parts as they remove the converter.

Cars that are higher off the ground, such as pickups, trucks and SUVs are frequent targets, because thieves can slide underneath without needing to jack the vehicle.

Insurance giant Nationwide says car owners who live in high-target areas can take these key steps to diminish your chances of being victimized:

-Engrave your license plate number on the converter. A highly visible identifier could deter thefts, and if not, at least help police trace the stolen part.

-An auto mechanic or local muffler shop can use hardened steel to weld the catalytic converter to the car frame, making it much more difficult and time-consuming for a thief to steal.

-Park in well-lit, public areas or secured areas at night.

-Purchase a vehicle security system.

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