Thieves love it when we leave our cars – and their precious metal – in lots at night.  (Maya Abdallah)

Converting car parts to plunder

For a bit of platinum, thieves are tearing apart vehicle exhaust
systems, leaving owners with expensive repair bills
By Danielle Selbee

THE CITY HAS SEEN a sudden rise in the theft of catalytic converters since October 2019, to the point that, as of March, some 1,033 have been torn out of vehicles, Edmonton Police Service reports.

A catalytic converter is the part of an exhaust system that converts a vehicle’s toxic emissions into less harmful compounds. It does this by heating up the exhaust and passing it though the converter, where it is filtered through a platinum and palladium screen.

The goal of the thieves is the three to seven grams (according to Specialty Metals) of platinum inside the converters.

Last year there were more than 200 thefts of these converters. Currently, three people are facing charges, after police found 10 converters in their truck.

“The most common vehicles being targeted for catalytic converter thefts are SUVs – Honda & Hyundai – vans such as Ford E-Series, and Ford F-Series trucks,” says a press release from EPS.

At 66 Street Autobody, manager Eddie Chan says he has had converters stolen from customers’ vehicles, while they were awaiting repairs.

“It takes less than two minutes, just using a saw,” he says.

But it’s not just the stolen part that costs money. There are the repair bills and damage to connecting sensors.

“It’s $300 for a sensor,”  Chan says. “New part is $1,000, maybe $750 for aftermarket. But, then, there’s the work to put them in. They have to be welded.”

Depending on where you take your vehicle, this bill could come to $1,500. Stewart Hai of YEG Auto Works in downtown Edmonton says that the cost comes from more than just replacing the catalytic converter.

“It depends on the damage; there are two sensors.”

There isn’t much you can do to stop thefts. Chan has two security cameras and has sent video surveillance to the police, but that doesn’t deter the theft.

‘Park in a garage. It’s the safest way
to protect your vehicle’

“Park in a garage. It’s the safest way to protect your vehicle.”

Commercially owned parking lots are also major targets. The Edmonton food bank has been hit three times, and the Mustard seed has been hit at least once.

Common vehicles that come into Hai’s shop for converter repairs are Honda CRVs from 2003 and up. One he quoted at $1,500 to repair, and another he couldn’t do in shop.

“We had one guy come in with all the parts, but [the converter] was cut too far. He had to go to a muffler shop to get it remade.”

One option for a quick fix that is legal in Alberta, is to “straight pipe” the muffler – filling the empty space with a pipe of the same diameter as the exhaust line, and sealing the muffler. Some people do this to improve the speed of their vehicles for racing, but it makes for a lot of noise – and the check-engine light will always be on, so you won’t know when there is any other damage to the vehicle.

In Alberta, it may not be illegal to remove the converter, but British Colombia, Saskatchewan, Ontario and Quebec all have laws banning the modification of an exhaust system.

The maps below show just how common thefts from vehicles are in the City Centre, though it doesn’t indicate what kind of thefts they are. However, they do give some idea of just what a hot zone the area is for thieves.

The blue circles show the thefts from vehicles in February (top) and March.

Unlike Chan, Hai says he doesn’t have problems with thefts at his shop – but, then, he takes steps to keep cars away from thieves.

“We fit 25 vehicles in here. We bring them all in at night.

He says he agrees with Chan though; when it comes to keeping your vehicle safe, the only thing to do is to park it inside. Even smaller vehicles or ones sitting against the ground can be lifted with a car jack to give thieves access.

‘It’s very difficult
to protect yourself’

The EPS has a crime map that you vehicle owners can use to see where and what kind of incidents have been reported.

“It’s very difficult to protect yourself, because it is a crime of opportunity.” Says Scott Pattison, of the EPS. “The best way to protect yourself is to park in well-lit areas, or inside a garage if you can.”

He warns against approaching a thief at work, and advises calling police right away. The crimes are “driven by addiction, people who aren’t thinking clearly.”

“The last thing you want to do is spook that individual.”

Try to safely get a picture of the vehicles licence plate, or any video surveillance you can to help assist the EPS in catching these individuals.

As of March, there have been 42 incidents reported, Pattinson says.

“It’s been fairly steady since October, and continued on since the pandemic was announced in mid-March, with a large volume of incidents occurring in west and southwest Edmonton.”

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