The holiday season has seen an explosion in thefts of expensive, platinum-laced catalytic converters from parked cars in Los Angeles, and authorities report that high-clearance sport utility vehicles are the targets of choice for thieves, says the Los Angeles Times. With a common socket wrench and 90 seconds, they leave drivers stuck with cars that sound like Harley-Davidson motorcycles, and facing repair bills topping $1,000. “It’s an epidemic. It’s everywhere,” said El Segundo police Lt. Bob Turnbull.
The prize is a catalytic converter, a device used to reduce emissions. Platinum is more valuable than gold, and the contents of a typical converter are worth $40 to $50 to scrap-metal dealers. The preferred weapon is a ratchet with a 14-millimeter socket. The thief crawls under the car and unfastens the bolts holding the converter, a process that accomplished crooks can complete in 90 seconds. Brazen thieves in one area cruised around a parking lot, looking for the model they wanted, and quickly removed the devices. Taking simple precautions can reduce the chances of becoming a victim. The primary rule is to park in a garage. The next best safeguard is welding the converter to the body of the car, Turnbull said. At a cost of about $50, the device becomes part of the vehicle: much more difficult to remove.