Catalytic converter thefts on the rise

By: Jenna Nielsen, Journal Staff Writer
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Thieves are beginning to turn their attention to a new vehicle commodity — catalytic converters. A recent rash of the thefts in Auburn is beginning to reflect trends throughout the region and across the nation. The converters, which reduce the amount of toxic fumes from car engines, contain small amounts of precious metals such as platinum, rhodium and palladium. Platinum can be sold for more than $1,000 an ounce and rhodium, can sell for more than $6,000 an ounce, according to the California Highway Patrol. “We have just been getting slammed with catalytic converter thefts,” said Lt. Scott Burns of the Auburn Police Department. “We have had 10 in the month of July so far.” Burns said SUVs and trucks are a bigger target because they have more room to get underneath. But Auburn isn’t the only jurisdiction being hit. The Rocklin Police Department recorded 32 thefts in 2000 and have already recorded 30 so far this year. Lt. Lon Milka of the Rocklin Police Department said officials recently held a catalytic converter day, where residents could have their vehicle number engraved onto the converter. “We etched 68 vehicles in four hours,” Milka said. “If the converter is scrapped or found, it will at least help us find the owner.” Detective Mike Jones of the Roseville Police Department said the thefts have become a weekly oc-currence. “In one night (we won’t have just) one theft, there will be three or four,” Jones said. “We are ab-solutely seeing an increase this year over last year.” The average converter contains one to two grams of the metals thieves are after, said Dena Erwin, spokeswoman with the Placer County Sheriff’s Department. The price to replace converters can cost upwards of $1,300, she said. Thieves are able to steal the converters in as little as 90 seconds. Within the sheriff’s department’s jurisdiction, three cases of the theft have been reported in the last two months. Twenty cases were reported last November, Erwin said. And preventing the crime has proven difficult “Unless you can garage your car, there is really no way to protect yourself from this crime,” Erwin said. Burns said Thursday that the department has also seen a recent upsurge in thefts from vehicles in Auburn. “We suspect people are walking through neighborhoods and checking for unlocked cars,” Burns said. “We are urging people to take preventive measures.” Burns said making sure your car is locked and secure is the main deterrence to thieves. “If you have an alarm, that helps too, as well as parking in an area that is highly visible — some-where you can see it from your house.” Motion lights are also a deterrence, he said. “If thieves see something valuable in your car, it is going to be a temptation,” Burns said. “Don’t leave valuable items like a purse or laptop computer in your car.” If you see anything suspicious or have a crime to report, call the Auburn Police Department at (530) 823-4237. The Journal’s Jenna Nielsen can be reached at or post a comment.