Catalytic converter thefts up

Up til now it’s been car radios, GPS devices and expensive tire rims as prime targets for car thieves.

Now you can add catalytic converters.

The pricey parts of vehicle exhaust systems have become hot property to steal – usually with a car jack and a battery-operated saw by fast moving teams of thieves.

The Bronx started experiencing a wave of such thefts last October when 15 Toyota Seqouia’s, which have two converters, were hit. Starting in December, thieves began hitting U-Haul trucks, striking eleven times.

To date, police said 149 converters have been stolen since the pattern was established.

Bronx cops most recently collared a gang of “cat” thieves who hit several vehicles near the Throggs Neck Houses, and are on the alert for more crews seeking to saw and run with the expense car parts.

Capt. James McGeown, commander of the local 45th Precinct where the four thieves were nabbed, said he’s made his officers “aware of the situation. It’s something that we are on the alert for.”

Unlike car radios and tire rims, the emission-control devices, required since 1975 on all vehicles produced in the United States, contain precious metals that act as catalysts.

When hot exhaust enters the converter, a chemical reaction occurs that renders toxic gases, such as carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons, into less harmful emissions.

With the price of precious metals skyrocketing, thieves are targeting the converters, which contain enough platinum, palladium or rhodium to make it worth the risk to cut it from the underbelly of a vehicle.

While they can get up to $100 for each unit at a scrap metal dealer’s, the hapless victims may wind up paying up to $1,000 to replace the units.

The victims become aware of the theft when their vehicles start with ear jarring gravelly roar.

Larger vehicles, such as trucks, pick-ups, SUVs and Jeep Cherokees, are favorite targets, police said, because they are higher off the ground and easier for a thief to slide under, saw away and be gone in a matter of minutes.

To combat catalytic converter thefts, a number of states have passed laws tightening the restrictions on metal scrap dealers. In many cases, dealers are required to verify the seller’s identity with a photo ID and maintain complete records of sellers for 5 years.

Police said thieves typically look for vehicles that parked for long periods in large lots, such as shopping centers, commuter lots and or company parking lots.

They have issued some helpful hints:

•Always park in well-lighted areas

•At shopping centers and other similar parking lots, park close to the entrance of the building or near the access road where there’s a lot of traffic

•If you own or work at a business or factory, park within a fenced area that’s busy during the day and secured at night

•Engrave your license plate number on the converter to make it traceable

•Purchase a vehicle security system and make sure it’s set to trigger with just the slightest motion

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