Costly catalytic converter thefts on the rise in Eugene and across the country

A replacement can run from $1,000 to $3,000.

Posted: Mar 4, 2021 2:39 PM
Updated: Mar 4, 2021 6:46 PM

EUGENE, Ore. -- If you start your car in the morning, and it’s a lot louder than it was the night before -- chances are you had your catalytic converter stolen.

These devices have been reported as missing left and right to police departments across the country, even right here in Lane County.

Steve Nohrenberg, who owns the Midas auto repair shop in Eugene, said the crime has been happening almost daily now.

“We had this happen six to eight years ago when it got like that,” Nohrenberg said. “They passed legislation, the economy got really good and it kind of went down to nothing. Now it’s crazy again.”

People have flooded in to get replacements.

The converters have precious metals inside that draw quite the attraction to thieves.

“It’s got platinum and rhodium -- there’s only a little bit in it but rhodium is about $30,000 an ounce or something,” Nohrenberg said. “It only takes the smallest amount to make it very valuable. They sell them.”

Some converters can be traded in for around $40 to $50, while others can be valued in the hundreds.

Eugene residents Gwen and Jerry Ditlefsen had two catalytic converters stolen from their car last Friday at about 6 a.m.

“I heard a noise like someone was dragging something down the street,” Gwen said. “I got him up, and we couldn't see anything at first. He saw someone in a little car parked right out front of the fence. When he saw Jerry looking at him, he headed out. It was probably about eight minutes from when I first heard the noise."

They were unable to get the thief’s license plate because he made it out so quickly. 

Jerry shared his thoughts: “They like the four-wheel drives because they sit up high enough. You just crawl underneath them, cut them off and take them real quick. If it's a low car, they have to jack them up with a jack so it takes a little longer. They like a little more privacy."

Eugene resident Amanda Watts also fell victim to this type of theft around 4 a.m. one morning.

“My neighbor alerted us that they saw sparks under our car, and my husband ran out,” Watts said. “There was a man that ran away and cut our converter out.”

She called the police and fingerprints were taken, but tracking down these thieves is far from easy.

“We wish there were better practices to protect people from this because it's really expensive to have it fixed,” Watts said. “It's like $1,500. It's a crime ring that's going on right now.”

Watts tried to find the converter at a metal recycling spot but was told there's nothing they could do.

Your car can run without a converter, but you will notice a loud exhaust noise.

"It's an open exhaust," Nohrenberg said. "Your car sounds like a 747 going down the road."

The catalytic converter is the last defense before engine exhaust escapes into the world.

Nohrenberg said a replacement can run from $1,000 to $3,000.

Drivers are encouraged to park in a garage if possible and to secure their vehicles the best they can. Others shared to know what is going on in your neighborhood and to continue being aware of your surroundings.

“People who want your catalytic converter will steal it some way,” Nohrenberg said. “They get stolen from parking lots where people are shopping, so you can't lock it up forever. If you see someone around your car, pay attention to them. They can take one out in minutes.”

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