There are precious elements to be found in what many drivers may think is an unimportant hunk of metal at the bottom of their cars. But thieves know better, and for the past six weeks or so, they’ve been stealing that hunk from trucks in Santa Barbara neighborhoods.
The hunk is the catalytic converter, the part of the vehicle’s exhaust system that changes hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, and nitrous oxide into non-toxic and less harmful gases like carbon dioxide and water vapor. Recently, police in Santa Barbara and elsewhere in California have found an increase in the theft of catalytic converters. According to spokesman Sgt. Lorenzo Duarte, the SBPD has had about 12 reports of stolen catalytic converters within the last six weeks. All have been from Toyotas - mostly 4Runners or pickup trucks. It is easier for the thief to target trucks and SUVs because of their height off the ground. The way the converter is bolted in - with two screws in the front and two in the back - also makes it quicker and easier for thieves to get in and get out.
All customers that have brought their vehicles to Higgins Muffler and Brake sans converter in the last 30 days have brought Toyotas, said owner Jerry Glover, who puts this number at 15 to 20. A majority of these vehicles were parked on neighborhood streets, and most of the converters were stolen during the night.
The reason behind these thefts is the valuable elements platinum, palladium, and rhodium found inside the catalytic converters. Rhodium is among the most expensive metals in the world, selling at about $6,000 per ounce on the open market. Although there are only small amounts of these metals found in catalytic converters, a thief can resell a stolen converter for $200. But according to Glover, a thief has to go to Los Angeles to sell a converter because none of the junkyards in Santa Barbara are buying them.
In order to protect a catalytic converter, Glover recommends getting the bolts welded over; with this done, it makes it impossible for a thief to easily unbolt the converter. Higgins will perform this simple service for about $25. The thief still has the option to cut the metal pipe on the converter, but this is more difficult and rare because of the loud noise and necessary tools.