Catalytic converter thefts increase in Puget Sound, police say

Thefts of catalytic converters throughout Puget Sound have increased dramatically since the beginning of the year. According to Seattle Police, more than 514 thefts have been reported in the city. Toyota Prius cars are what thieves are mostly targetting, police said.

A catalytic converter is an emission control device that's located in a car's exhaust system or tailpipe. It basically reduces the toxic gases that come out of your car by using precious metals like palladium, platinum, rhodium, or copper. It's these metals that thieves are looking to make quick cash on, according to police.

Q13 obtained a video from a Montlake couple who said their Prius was targeted on November 2nd. The video was from their Nest home security system above their garage. Their 2008 Toyota Prius was parked on the street, in front of the house. In the video from late that night, a driver in a white pick-up truck and another driver in a darker hatchback or station wagon, pull up in front of the Prius. After a few minutes, they scope it out and one of the drivers goes back to the truck to pull out tools to remove the catalytic converter.

Jessica Atlakson says the thieves used wooden blocks to prop the car up and an electric saw to take the converter out. From the time the thieves pulled up, to when they left was about 12 minutes. But it only took them less than a minute to take the converter out once they got under the car.

"It is surprising that we didn't wake up because it was so loud on the security camera. And the ironic thing is, I was actually sleeping in the front of the house. Our bedroom is on the backside, but we have a newborn and I was up with him and out in the front room and I think I had the noise machine on or something or the baby was crying and I didn't hear it," she said. 

She said they noticed something was wrong the next morning.

"The way we found out is, my husband came out to use the car and as soon as he turned it on, it sounded like a tank starting up. It's a Prius so it should be pretty quiet," she said. 

She had to call the tow truck and find an auto shop to get the part replaced. It cost the couple a $500 insurance deductible, plus $400 to install a metal bar that protects the new converter. Out of pocket, catalytic converters can cost more than $1000, not including labor costs. 

"The tow truck driver had said that this was the sixth Prius that he had towed that week with the same issues, and the auto body shop said that was their third Prius to come in that week with the catalytic converter stolen," said Atlakson.

To protect yourself, police recommend parking in a well-lit and visible area. Or if you have a garage, that would be ideal. Other experts recommend having the converter welded into the car frame or have the Vehicle Identification Number etched onto the part. 

Why are these parts so valuable to thieves, according to police, it's all about quick cash. Thieves can sell the converters to metal recyclers for hundreds of dollars apiece.