After saving her money for a lengthy period of time, Arleta resident Victoria Carranza was finally able to buy a car, a 2008 Toyota Prius. She happily drove it home, parking it in front of the house where she lives.
The next day, when Victoria Carranza started the car to drive to work, it “sounded like a truck,” her mother, Tracey Carranza-Kverne, recalled.
Victoria Carranza didn’t know what was wrong. But when she and her mom checked underneath the car, they noticed something was missing.
Thieves had stolen the catalytic converter from the vehicle. Victoria would eventually have to spend $3,200 to replace it, waiting several days for the part before the dealer was able to do the work.
“She had to get a loan (to replace it),” her mother said.
Victoria Carranza had to pay for a new converter out of her pocket because the car’s purchase was so recent that she had not even bought insurance for it.
“She was devastated,” Carranza-Kverne said.
THEFTS ON THE RISE
Thousands of people across the San Fernando Valley and Southern California have faced this unwelcome surprise, as catalytic converter thefts have spiked in the past year and continue to rise.
Police and other law enforcement agencies are working on solutions. The LAPD West Valley Station is hosting an “Operation Etch & Catch” event on Aug. 7, where officers will spray paint an LAPD logo and etch the vehicle’s license plate number on your catalytic converter for free. If your converter is stolen, the engraving would help police identify the stolen property which, hopefully, lead to arrests.
The service is by appointment only. You must call (818) 374-7630 to register.
But even as suspects are being captured — back in March 19, people were arrested and 250 converters worth $750,000 were recovered by Sheriff’s deputies after warrants were served at various locations around Los Angeles County — trying to slow the rate of theft here in the Southland is proving difficult.
The National Insurance Crime Bureau reports thefts of these car parts increased from 3,389 in 2019 to 14,433 in 2020. A large percentage of that increase came from Los Angeles; Sheriff’s deputies say the thefts of catalytic converters rose from 741 in 2019 to 2,767 in 2020. There are no available numbers yet for 2021.
However, the crime is so widespread and happens so often, that victims like Victoria Carranza must wait weeks for a replacement part.
PRECIOUS PARTS AND METALS
Catalytic converters are the devices that control the pollutants of exhaust emissions, and have been required on US cars since 1975.
They are welded or bolted between the engine and the muffler underneath the vehicles. According to the Sheriff’s Department, thieves can take as little as 60 seconds to saw them off and remove them.
The converters are much sought after because they contain metals like platinum, palladium and rhodium whose prices have risen dramatically in recent years.
Thieves can make between $200 and $1,000 when they sell them to metal recyclers. Others are sold to dismantlers and wholesalers who resell them as replacement parts.
Authorities say Toyotas are especially vulnerable because their catalytic converters are bolted rather than welded, making their removal easier. Certain cars like the first generation Prius — and also Ford’s F-250 truck — are targeted more than others in LA County, likely because their catalytic converters are known to contain more precious metal, a Sheriff’s spokesperson said.
But the Sheriff’s Department reports that the converters on Ford Excursions, Honda Accords, and Honda Elements are also coveted by thieves.
Law enforcement agencies recommend parking your vehicle in well-lit areas with cameras pointing at the cars to help discourage thieves. You can purchase a cage or other protection device for the catalytic converter — although they can be expensive — or have the bolts on your vehicle’s converted welded shut. You can also have your vehicle’s license plate number etched on to the converter.
One of the best preventive methods, law enforcement officials say, is the public reporting to police and Sheriff’s deputies spotting someone or several people attempting to steal the converters from vehicles.
Victoria Carranza has taken precautions to reduce the chances against being victimized again. The family installed cameras all around the house, which are turned on every night. The car is now parked inside the garage and she spent an extra $400 to buy a shield that protects the catalytic converter.
“It prevents them (the thieves) from having easy access to it,” her mother said, noting her disappointment with this type of crime.
“It’s really sad that you live in a home and somebody takes stuff away from you when you do everything right and they’re not doing anything good,” she added.
Carranza-Kverne recommends to others taking some of these precautions.
“You don’t want to go out there trying to get to work and you can’t drive your car,” she said. “Replacing this (part) is a pain in the tail.”