It’s the catalytic converter on your car, and it’s worth about $200 at some unscrupulous scrap yards.
Which is making for unpleasant surprises for owners of SUVs and trucks.
You see, those cars sit high enough above the ground that a bandit with a battery powered saw can slide under the car and rapidly appropriate the platinum based catalytic converter found in the exhaust system of every domestic and foreign vehicle. The precious metals in the converter are part of the vehicle’s emission reduction system. Replacing a catalytic converter – a “cat” - is going to cost the unfortunate vehicle owner, or the insurance company, about $1,000.
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It’s a new risk for people who park on the street, or in parking lots, and it’s apparently a growth area in the car crime business. Converter theft is rising because the price of platinum, one of the most precious of all metals, has skyrocketed in recent years. It now brings about $2,300 an ounce on the open market, making it more than twice as expensive as gold.
In addition to being the most vulnerable targets, trucks and SUVs are also the prime targets because they use the largest catalytic converters, which means they contain the most platinum.
How bad is the problem?
Consider the police department in Ramsey, Minnesota, a suburb of Minneapolis. Last year, thieves stole the converters on 19 vehicles from the department’s own impound yard.
How do you protect yourself?
It’s not easy, beyond the obvious: the enclosed garage. Car alarms are no defense, because there thief doesn’t enter the passenger compartment of the vehicle. Even parking in a well-lighted lot offers scant protection: the person stealing the converter is actually concealed during the theft by the vehicle.
Maybe the best advice is to drive something that sits low to the ground. So, if you’re thinking of trading the Tahoe on a Corvette, here’s your excuse.