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Thieves targeting catalytic converters
• Can profit $200 at your expense
catalytic converter
Stolen catalytic converters, seen here in the trunk of a car stopped by police in another town, are converted to cash by thieves.

For the past few months, Ceres Police have dealt with a significant increase in thefts reported within Ceres, with thieves stealing catalytic converters from underneath parked cars during the dark of night.

Why steal catalytic converters, which are a vital part of a vehicles exhaust system and cost a significate amount of money to be replaced? In a word: money.

There are metals inside of the converters that are valuable and thieves can easily pocket $200 per theft after taking them to a scraper. Palladium, one of the metals, goes for almost $2,500 an ounce. There is also platinum, rhodium, and more. They help the converter to catalyze the oxidation of gasses. As prices of these rare metals rise in price, so do thefts, which can take place as quickly as one to two minutes with the use of a wrench or saw.

“I don’t know where they’re scrapping them at,” said Ceres Police Department Detective Jon Vera. “I know we have one recycling facility here in Ceres, out there on Moffet, they’re not taking them there. I know it’s a problem in the Valley, even down 580 in the Bay area so these guys could potentially be scrapping them in Sacramento, South San Francisco. Who knows?”

The theft can take place undetected underneath a vehicle and security cameras often fail to capture images that are helpful in identifying suspects. Since there are no numbers connecting the converter to any car it is difficult to say with certainty that a specific converter belongs to a certain car.

The uptick in thefts could be a result of the economic shutdown related to COVID-19 with people in such a financial bind that they resort to theft.

Because some drivers are not using their vehicles as much, a theft may go unrecognized for days. But once the owner starts the ignition they will know something is wrong because the car’s exhaust system will sound loud as if it has no muffler.

The Ceres Police Department is seeking the public’s help end these thefts by:

• Monitoring what goes on in the neighborhood and report people acting suspiciously.

• Parking in a well-lit area or inside of a locked garage if possible, cars should be parked.

• Consider engraving the vehicle identification number (VIN) on the catalytic converter — this may help alert a scrap dealer that it was stolen and make it easier to identify the owner.

• Calibrate your car alarm to set off when car moves.

Some car owners have welded a cage or metal plates around the converter to make it much harder for thieves to remove. But it’s not usually covered by insurance so it can cost a few hundred dollars. 

Replacing a catalytic converter can run around $500 with insurance, $1,500 to $3,000 without insurance. Because a Toyota Prius converter takes longer to burn out the precious metals, higher prices are paid for Prius items. Other popular cars with stolen converters are the Honda Accord and the Honda Odyssey.

Thieves often target taller vehicles (such as pickup trucks or SUVs) because they can easily slide under the vehicle to access the converter.