TACOMA - Last year, about 190 catalytic converters were stolen, according to a Tacoma Police Department spokesperson.
This year already, nearly 140 have been reported stolen, and most of those devices were taken from the popular Prius.
Pat Austin from Austin’s Pro Max on South Tacoma Way knows his cars. Lately, he says more and more customers are calling about the same problem: catalytic converter thefts.
"These guys are really good," Austin said. "They come in, cut them off and they’re out of here in about a minute."
Catalytic converters are devices intended to clean up the exhaust leaving your car’s tailpipe, but it’s the precious metals inside them that has thieves crawling onto the dirt.
Last week in Bellevue, the owner of a Prius awoke to noises outside her home and spotted a stranger underneath her vehicle. Bellevue Police said the perpetrator fled as the victim called 911. Officers caught the suspect nearby and located the Prius’ catalytic converter inside the trunk of the getaway car.
Police made one arrest, but agencies across Puget Sound say thefts are on the rise.
In Olympia, 37 were reported stolen since the start of January. Tacoma is on track to double the number of catalytic converter thefts from last year.
Austin says the crime cycles; copper wire thefts were prevalent not too long ago. Most recyclers do not accept the stolen converters, he said, but thieves might have learned new tricks.
"These guys are going online now; they already have them pre-sold online," Austin added.
Police say drivers could install an alarm that might alert neighbors should the thief’s movements trigger the sensors.
Some mechanics could install a barrier around the device, forcing crooks to move on to a faster score. But, Austin says, modifying the undercarriage of your vehicle could void warranties.
The Pro Max garage offers plans to spread out the financial pain for customers suddenly facing an expensive repair bill, said Austin. Prius owners specifically could face even more expensive repairs should crooks cause damage to the vehicle’s wiring when stealing catalytic converters.
"It’s a hassle and can cost you a lot of money," he said.
Crooks can earn hundreds of dollars if they know how to fence the devices. Police say drivers could park in a secured garages, or leave their cars under bright street lamps or surveillance cameras.
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