Lodi scrap thieves are preying on catalytic converters — especially those in Toyota trucks and sport utility vehicles. While the Lodi Police Department regularly receives calls from victims wanting to file a theft report, this week has seen a spike in activity.
Nine separate incidents of catalytic converters being ripped from vehicles were reported Wednesday. The result is vehicles scattered around the community in need of sometimes thousands of dollars in repairs. Six of the nine thefts reported Wednesday took place in the rectangle formed by Lodi Avenue, North Church Street and Turner and Lower Sacramento roads, according to police reports.
"They target Toyota's converters because they are the most expensive," said Sgt. Fernando Martinez of the Lodi Police Department. "And they can be in and out with the part in 30 seconds."
A catalytic converter is a gadget next to a vehicle's muffler that reduces the toxicity of its emissions. At its core is a precious metal — commonly platinum — that can fetch high prices at unscrupulous recycling centers, police said. While all vehicles registered in California must have a catalytic converter, police and automotive experts in the community agree that Toyota trucks and SUVs are the most targeted vehicles.
"Trucks and SUVs are popular for (scrap thieves) because the vehicles are so high off the ground that they don't need to jack it up; they can just slide under and start cutting," Martinez said.
The composition of Toyota parts are just as attractive to thieves as the convenience, said Gary Barbee of Bob's Precision Auto on East Oak Street.
"Toyota converters have the most platinum and titanium in them," he said. "We had one guy who owns an SR5 who has been robbed three separate times."
Operators of local automotive repair shops and police agree that while vehicle owners can take steps to protect themselves, a thief who wants something bad enough is going to get it.
The owner of a Downtown repair shop said installing brackets connecting the converter to braces on the vehicle's undercarriage can deter thieves.
"We've done that for about $80 bucks," said Jesse Rodriguez, owner of Auto & Exhaust Specialists on South Sacramento Street. "While replacing a converter can run from $200 to more than $2,000, depending on the vehicle type and exhaust system."
Even though some people may not know much else about their car besides where to put the gas in, someone who has been the victim of a catalytic converter theft will recognize it immediately, Rodriguez said.
"Your car will be a lot louder, it will vibrate, and the 'Check Engine' light will turn on," he said. "There's no way you wouldn't be able to tell something is wrong."
With a battery-powered saw and enough clearance space, thieves can run off with a vital part of a vehicle's exhaust system, Martinez said.
"The things we tell people to do are try to keep their vehicle in the garage and park under streetlights at night," he said.
Martinez also endorsed concerned owners putting their vehicle's alarm on its most sensitive setting, but cautioned that it would likely be set off by every passing car with a blaring radio, or neighborhood cat jumping on it.
Contact reporter Jordan Guinn at email@example.com.