A handful of San Diego families were left blowing hot air after realizing their catalytic converters had been stolen from beneath their cars.
The San Diego Police Department (SDPD) said that 11 cases of stolen converters were reported between Dec. 16 and Jan. 16, including nine in the Northeastern Division alone.
Thieves snatched the converter from Sunah Jong’s son’s 2005 Toyota Camry right in front of their Torrey Highlands home. Her surveillance cameras caught what SDPD believes is a white 2017 Hyundai Azera pull up next to the Camry, jack up the car, jack the converter and peel off.
The entire heist took less than 80 seconds.
These thefts usually happen in the dead of night -- in Jong’s case it was around 3 a.m. on Jan. 11. -- and drivers typically find out about it the same Jong did.
“In the morning we tried to start the car and it sounded like a motorcycle,” Jong said. “It was really loud.”
A catalytic converter is a component of the exhaust system that reduces toxins emitted in your vehicle’s engine exhaust. When removed, exhaust never makes it to the muffler and blows out the shortened end of the pipe as if the car were a hot rod.
Most converters contain valuable metals beneath their steel shell, like platinum and gold, making them a target for anyone looking to make a couple hundred bucks illegitimately.
If your car was made after 1975 then it has a catalytic converter, and since they’re relatively unrestricted in the car’s undercarriage, stealing it can be a breeze.
That’s exactly what Jong found out when she drove her Camry to her local muffler shop.
As she pulled up she heard employees saying, “Oh, not this again.” A shop manager told her they had helped victims of the same crime three or four times just in that week.
Jong wonders if the suspects used a blowtorch or tool other than a saw because she said she didn’t hear a thing that night and they were in and out so fast.
The Camry stays parked on the street primarily because her son is away at college and doesn’t drive it. With the garage and driveway spoken for, she says there isn’t really much she can do other than remain vigilant.
“You cannot sleep,” Jong advised other drivers playfully. “You have to guard your car.”
The materials inside the converters can go for up to $300 on the streets, according to police.
Last summer, the District Attorney's office fined a Spring Valley recycling company $90,000 for improper processing of catalytic converters and other parts purchased from independent sellers.
Under the Business and Professions Code, recycling companies must collect vehicle identification numbers from sellers or gather information from the sellers on how exactly they got a hold of the parts. Companies must also wait three business days before paying sellers so that police have time to verify information given by the seller.