Catalytic converter thefts are becoming a growing problem in Berkeley, with incidents rising in number throughout the city. These valuable devices located in the exhaust systems of vehicles contain precious metals like platinum, palladium and rhodium.
The thefts have become extremely common nationwide in recent years, as reported by The Economist, as rhodium currently sells for upwards of $12,000 an ounce as of press time.
“We probably get … upwards of six to eight (converter replacements) a week,” said Doreen VanDenBaard, business manager at The Model Garage in Berkeley.
The thefts are often carried out quickly, with thieves using electric saws to remove the converters from the vehicles, according to UCPD Sergeant Patrick O’Donnell. Some thieves can steal a converter in as little as one to two minutes, the state Bureau of Automotive Repair website reads.
In response, some people have taken to welding rebar to their cars in an effort to shield the catalytic converters from theft, VanDenBaard said, while others purchase cages made of bunched together cables. Unfortunately for both groups, it seems that these deterrents no longer provide much protection.
“These thieves have figured out how to saw through the rebar,” VanDenBaard said. “(Cages) are useless. They don’t work. We’ve replaced several catalytic converters recently that had both rebar welded to them and the cages.”
As an alternative, VanDenBaard recommended people use Cat Security plates. According to her, such plates are the only security options customers of The Model Garage have consistently seen success with. Unfortunately, these do not exist for every make and model of car, VanDenBaard said.
With the rise in converter thefts, such protections may seem increasingly important as, in VanDenBaard’s estimation, the average catalytic converter replacement in Berkeley will run between $2800 and $3500 and sometimes much more, depending on the car.
O’Donnell said other areas affected by similar thefts have begun implementing deterrents. He said police departments in Vallejo and other cities have started holding etching events, where people can bring their cars to have their converters etched with their license plate numbers.
At the state level, California recently passed legislation that forbids people from selling catalytic converters unless they can prove that they came from a vehicle that they own, the bill text reads.
For those parking on campus, O’Donnell recommends parking in public areas, or in lots with cameras, such as the Underhill Parking Garage or the Stadium Parking Garage.
Even those without cars are not completely out of the clear. Other forms of personal transportation have been reported stolen to UCPD, O’Donnell said.
“They are really common now. We get a lot of scooter thefts and bike thefts,” O’Donnell said.
For those with vehicles like electric scooters and bicycles, O’Donnell recommends investing in a U-Lock to keep things secure.