Thieves target local Toyotas

-A A +A
By Carol A. Clark

Over the last two nights, thieves have crawled underneath four older model Toyota trucks and SUVs parked in Los Alamos neighborhoods and cut off the vehicles’ catalytic converters.  
“The catalytic converters used on Toyota trucks and SUVs in the 1980s and 1990s were made from precious metal,” Capt. Randy Foster said. “It’s an easy part to get at so it’s become a popular item to steal.”
Foster advised residents to keep an eye on their older model Toyota trucks and SUVs and to park them close to their homes or in their garages if possible.
The catalytic converter in the older models is located near the vehicle’s muffler, Foster said, adding that the vehicle will run with a missing converter but it will be very loud.
Police Chief Wayne Torpy said thieves have been targeting the older Toyotas all over the country and that Los Alamos is actually running behind in this trend.
“This really has been a problem around the country, in fact many salvage yards have stopped taking in these vehicles because they attract these particular types of thieves,” Torpy said.
The older catalytic converters contain plenty of platinum and a thief with a socket wrench can remove it in a matter of minutes.
It costs around $1,100 to affect the repair and replacement of a missing catalytic converter and what’s worse – there really isn’t much that can be done to protect against another theft.
According to Internet research, the catalytic converter was mandated for all U.S. cars and trucks in 1975, to convert harmful pollutants into less harmful emissions before they left the exhaust system. Precious metals such as platinum, palladium, rhodium or gold are used as the catalyst.
Depending on which metal was used, thieves can sell the converters to metal recyclers for $20-$200. The recyclers then extract the metal and resell it for as much as $6,000 an ounce, as in the case of rhodium. While national theft figures are not recorded for catalytic converter theft, the crime has risen in tandem with sharply rising metal prices.
“We’re going to catch the individuals involved in these thefts and would appreciate any information the public may have that could assist in our investigation,” Torpy said.
Residents can contact the police department at 662-8222 and they can remain anonymous.

Precious Metals Recovery

A catalytic converter contains 0.07 ounces of platinum, 0.05 ounces of palladium and 0.07 ounces of Rhodium. Current prices of these metals per ounce in U.S. dollars is 1738.00, 749.00 and 2320 respectively. It would take 14.28 to get an ounce of platinum and an ounce of rhodium. It would take 20 to get an ounce of palladium. At current prices, the precious metal in one converter would be worth $321.53.

Not many corner recyclers have the knowledge or equipment to recover the metals so you add at least a third level to the fencing of the metals. I don't keep up on the current criminal profit margins but even if it were 50% (my hunch is more like 5% to 15%) the thief would only get $80.38 per converter. I don't know of any commercial precious metal recovery businesses in New Mexico so there would be even more overhead in getting the metal recovered. There may be criminal recovery locations in New Mexico.

In my experience, removing older model catalytic converters is not an easy and certainly not a quiet task even with a hacksaw, unless much rust has weakened the pipes. A hydraulic shear like the "jaws of life" would make it quicker but it would add greatly to the noise.

I'm not saying thieves aren't stealing them because it is obvious that they are. I do doubt that a thief could get more than $50 for one, it's probably more like the $20 as the low end of the article says and it takes a lot of hard and noisy work.

I'm not sure how big of a problem these types of thefts have become but it's just another example of how Do-Gooder laws, such as the catalytic converter mandate, have unintended consequences.