Capital cars hit by converter burglar

People have been stealing cars, or at least parts of cars, since their invention over 120 years ago.

Capital University was recently the site of multiple thefts of catalytic converters between midnight and 5 a.m. on Friday, February 11, 2022. The theft took place in the S1 and S2 parking lots on the east side of Pleasant Ridge Avenue, per email from Capital Communications sent later the same day.

“We got a call… that the car was making a loud noise when the student started it, we went over there and looked at the car and realized the catalytic converter was missing… we don’t have a good picture of the suspects…[but,] there were two [suspects involved]said Sergeant Willy Zarate, the capital’s public security officer.

Security surveillance video shows a black SUV, with both license plates removed, driving through the parking lot with a person exiting the vehicle, crawling under several cars for about a minute, then exiting from underneath holding a catalytic converter. The suspect then climbs back into the dark SUV and walks to another car and repeats the process.

The dark SUV had all license plates removed to avoid identification. Photo via Capital Communications.

Zarate said: “We have shared the information with other law enforcement agencies…seven cars in total [were hit that night].”

Catalytic converters have been a popular item for car thieves since they were required to be installed on all production cars in the United States in 1975.

The reason catalytic converters are so sought after is because of their composition. On the outside they look like a metal tube, but inside they are packed with rare metals like palladium, platinum and rhodium arranged in a honeycomb structure inside the steel case.

The purpose of the catalytic converter is to reduce the amount of harmful gases emitted by cars. Photo via Flickr.

There are only a few grams of each of these metals inside the catalytic converter, but that’s enough to make a new one worth hundreds of dollars. These metals react with environmentally harmful gases produced by internal combustion engines, such as carbon monoxide.

If a molecule of carbon monoxide reacts with the metal inside a catalytic converter, oxygen will stick to the metal and join with molecules of hydrogen to make water, or another molecule of carbon monoxide carbon to make carbon dioxide.

The remaining carbon will mix with other elements to form other less toxic gases. It might not look much better, but at least it won’t burn a hole in the ozone layer.

A well-trained thief with the right tools who knows what he’s doing can take apart a catalytic converter in less than a minute and can, in theory, sell it to a scrap yard for a few hundred dollars. But it’s not that easy.

Scrapyards are aware that people like to steal these bits of metal, so they may require proof of a serial number on the catalytic converter itself. Additionally, they may also ask you to have proof that it is from your own car.

Some things you can do to help to avoid to be a victim of this crime is to park in a well-lit or busy place. You can also buy aftermarket devices, basically metal cages or shields, to cover the catalytic converter to make it harder to remove. The probability of being affected by this crime also depends on what car do you have; newer cars, SUVs, pickup trucks and hybrids are most likely to be affected.

Efforts were made to reach the victims of the crimes, but no response was received.

  • Josh Conturo

    Josh Conturo is a reporter for the Chimes and is a fourth-year student in emerging media with a focus on journalism, and loves all things cars, coffee, and comedy.

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