ICPD seeing increase in catalytic converter thefts

BY AMY SKARNULIS | JULY 18, 2012 6:30 AM

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While the Iowa City area has seen 14 catalytic-converter thefts in the past few weeks, several automotive-repair shops say they haven't had customers come in for replacements.

Iowa City police Sgt. Denise Brotherton said there have been 14 thefts recently in 10 different locations, mostly on the South Side of town in public parking areas.

"I think one person's [vehicle] was parked on the street," she said. "[There were none stolen] in garages or residential parking areas."

Coralville is also experiencing thefts to a smaller degree.

Coralville Police Chief Barry Bedford said two converters were taken July 9 from a U-Haul parking lot.

Although the numbers seem high in the Iowa City area, Iowa City auto repair shops have yet to see an increase of people coming in for converter replacements because theft.

According to an Iowa City police press release, all vehicles produced in the United States must have a catalytic converter as a part of the exhaust system in order to reduce pollution-causing emissions.

Raffy Alawneh, an employee at No. 1 Auto Repair in Iowa City, said he has not heard of people having their converters stolen yet. He said people would steal the converter to make money back by selling them.

Stolen catalytic converters are sold to scarp yards for around $100 to $150, according to the Iowa City press release.

"[To replace a converter] the cheapest one would be $600 or $700," Alawneh said. "They are expensive because they have platinum [and other precious metals] in them."

Accurate Automotive in Iowa City has also not seen many customers needing to replace a stolen converters.

According to the press release, rhodium sells for roughly $9,500 an ounce, and platinum costs around $2,000. The precious metals inside act as catalysts; when hot exhaust enters the converter, a chemical reaction occurs that renders toxic gases into less harmful emissions.

The press release said vehicles that sit higher from the ground — such as trucks, pickups, and SUVs — are the most vulnerable to catalytic-converter theft because it is easy for thieves to slide underneath.

"I would guess a vehicle with a lot of ground clearance [would be the biggest target] because all they need is a battery-powered Sawzall to steal it," Nicholsen said. "It only takes about two to five minutes for $150."

Nicholsen said even if someone steals a converter from an old car, the precious metals still make the item valuable.

"Even if they're used and they don't even convert properly anymore, people can still get money for it," he said.

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