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Thieves Target Vehicles For Precious Metal Inside Catalytic Converters

DENVER (CBS4)– Parking on the street comes with more risk than someone swiping off a mirror or breaking into your car. Cities nationwide are seeing a spike in catalytic converter thefts.

(credit: CBS)

Catalytic converters help control exhaust emission in vehicles. You won't know it's gone, until you start your car.

"I started my car and there was a roaring noise," said Alyssa Wurzberg. "It could've woken up the whole neighborhood. I knew it was the catalytic converter."

Wurzberg posted on the app NextDoor to warn neighbors to stay vigilant. Several others in her Wash Park neighborhood posted about similar experiences, too.

"You'd think that being parked on the street, there's not a ton of room to work. But they're coming in the middle of the night. Who knows," said Wurzberg.

After realizing her car had been vandalized, Wurzberg took her vehicle to Elder Auto in Denver. The mechanics weren't shocked by her story.

"They've always been stealing them, but over the last year, it's gone way up along with break ins and ignition damage," said Cody Leach, shop manager at Elder Auto.

(credit: CBS)

Leach says stealing catalytic convertors doesn't take much work or time.

"It only takes maybe a minute to cut this thing off. They just come in with a saw, cut both sides of the cat out, pull it down, and they're gone," said Leach. "They know what they're going for."

Thieves aren't looking to sell the actual car part, but they know its earning potential. Precious metals, like platinum, in catalytic converters can be worth over $100 at scrapyards.

"I'd rather give you a $150 if you won't steal a $900 piece from my car," said Wurzberg.

That's how much she paid to replace the catalytic converter that was stolen. Leach says it could cost other victims thousands of dollars if the thieves did more damage while sawing off the catalytic converter.

Wurzberg says she's lucky to have regained employment right before her car was vandalized. Now she's warning her neighbors to be vigilant.

(credit: CBS)

"What if this happened to someone and they're struggling to put food on the table? Now they can't drive their car," said Wurzberg.

Taller vehicles, like pick-up trucks, are easier targets since thieves can get under them without jacking up the vehicle. Catalytic converters in hybrid cars are often seen as a bigger payday for thieves. Next year, Colorado will adapt California's tighter emissions standards. That's going to result in more expensive catalytic converters that are more valuable.

With many people working from home, and driving less, it's possible a catalytic converter can be stolen days before a driver realizes it. Theft of any car part should be reported to the Denver Police Department.

There's not much you can do to prevent a catalytic converter from being stolen, especially if you park on the street. Leach suggests parking in well-lit areas, close to building entrances. He says there also car alarms that go off when it detects vibration.

After having her catalytic converter stolen, Wurzberg says she will keep a closer eye out for own car and her neighbors' vehicles.

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