Investigation

Catalytic Converter Theft Victims Pay a Hefty Price for Parking Their Cars on the Street

Thieves targeting cars parked on the street are not always looking to steal them, but to steal something underneath them. And if it happens to you, it’s a painfully expensive problem, especially during these tough economic times.

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It’s an alarming sound that's been heard on the streets of Los Angeles — a loud, rumble when residents start their cars. 

They don’t know what’s happened, until a mechanic fills them in -- a thief stole the vehicle's catalytic converter. 

It happened to Ari Ruiz. A thief swiped the catalytic converter from his Prius in December.

And just weeks later, it happened again.

“It was upsetting, but we already knew what it was,” said Ruiz. “We checked underneath, and the catalytic converter was gone.”

So what is a catalytic converter? It’s a part underneath your car that helps reduce pollution. 

But why do thieves want them? They’re made of pricey metals, like platinum, that are worth a chunk of cash. 

Ariel Flores with Eagle Rock’s One Stop Auto says craft thieves can steal them in just minutes, and then cash them in at shady recycling centers.

“They could make anywhere from $300-$600 per catalytic converter,” said Flores.

LAPD doesn’t track catalytic converter thefts. But the buzz on social media has residents thinking it’s a big - and growing - problem right now. 

“We had ours stolen four times,” said one resident. “It happened so fast and they were gone in a blink of an eye,” said another. 

But it’s not a new crime. Six years ago, LAPD created a temporary task force and busted up a catalytic converter theft ring. They said thieves sold 23,000 “cats” in just one month. 

While insurance companies typically cover the theft, car owners are still out their deductible. For Ruiz, it was $500 for each theft.

So how can you keep your car safe from theft? Flores says his body shop is installing cages to cover up the converters. 

“What this is is just a deterrent,” said Flores. “So if they get underneath the car they’ll look at it and say ‘nah’ and go to the next car.”

Ruiz is getting one. He’s also installing home security cameras. He feels he has no choice.

“Crime is going up in LA, it’s tough,” said Ruiz. “We have to look out for each other.”

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