For the third time this week, a catalyic converter has been stolen from a 2000 Toyota in Evanston. But other models are vulnerable as well, experts say.

The catalytic converter is a part that all vehicles produced in the United States must have. It helps reduce pollution-causing emissions from your car.

They are especially attractive to thieves because of the dramatic rise in the price of precious metals, and the converter has a number of them, such as platinum, palladium, and rhodium.

Also, a skilled thief with the right equipment can lift one out of your car in about two minutes and can sell it to a scrap dealer for about $200.

You know your catalytic converter is missing when you start up your car in the morning and it sounds like a rocket ship about to lift off from Cape Kennedy.

Evanston police have reported three such thefts in the city, all of which apparently occurred Sunday night and all from 2000 Toyotas.

The thefts occurred in the 200 block of Ridge Avenue, the 1600 block of Cleveland Street, and the 1000 block of Dodge Avenue.

According to State Farm Insurance, which has to plop down about $1,000 whenever the part is stolen from a vehicle they insure, a catalytic converter is so easy to steal that many thefts occur in broad daylight.

“The only tools a thief needs,” the insurer wrote in a customer publication, “ are a wrench (for converters that are bolted on) or a reciprocating saw (for converters that are welded in). Some thieves bring a mechanic’s creeper. Then all they do is slide under the vehicle, remove the bolts holding the converter, and take it.”

State Farm says that the most commonly hit vehicles are SUVs and trucks, especially late-model Toyotas, because they sit higher off the ground (making for easier access) and the bolts that connect the converter are easily removed.

Nationwide Insurance offers these tips on the company’s website for avoiding  catalytic converter thefts:

1. Always park in well-lighted areas.

2. At shopping centers and other similar parking lots, park close to  the entrance of the building, or near the access road where there’s a lot of traffic.

3. If you own or work at a business or factory, park within a fenced area that’s busy during the day and secured at night.

4. Engrave your license plate number on the converter to make it traceable. This can act as a catalytic converter theft deterrent and help with local police investigations.

5. Purchase a vehicle security system, and make sure it’s set to be triggered with just the slightest motion.

6. Visit a local muffler shop and have the converter secured to the vehicle’s frame with a couple of pieces of hardened steel welded to the frame.

 Top: Catalytic converter from a 1988 Toyota Tacoma truck.

Charles Bartling

A resident of Evanston since 1975, Chuck Bartling holds a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and has extensive experience as a reporter and editor for daily newspapers, radio...

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  1. An experienced thief can do it in 30 seconds or less

    An experienced thief can saw an unprotected converter off from a vehicle in 30 seconds or less with little effort. The only thing an alarm will do is inform the owner the converter has been stolen. If they are around, that is.

    The engine and drive train move independently from the frame. Welding hardened steel from the converter to the frame is not a good idea, It will cause rattling and vibration in the cabin and eventually destroy the converter and/or the frame.

    There are bolt-on catalytic converter locks available online engineered with these issues in mind for a fraction of the cost of repairing a vehicle after converter theft. They simply create too much work for a thief in a hurry. One of them is even built to last the life of the vehicle.

  2. Stainless steel

    A couple of rods of stainless steel welded over the cat will dull the saw blade before a thief realizes he's not going to get that one in 30 seconds.

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