Stephanie Torney has lived in an apartment complex in the area of Lockeford Street and Loma Drive for the last 13 years, her vehicle always parked in the lot outside.

Torney had never worries about break-ins or thefts because they had never happened, until the middle of 2019 when the catalytic converter to her 2008 Toyota Prius was stolen.

She had just canceled the deductible to her automobile insurance, and had to pay $3,200 for a replacement part. It was a hit to her pocketbook, but she had a feeling that would be the one time she’d have to go through that kind of theft.

It wasn’t.

About six months later, thieves struck again. Three months afterward, they struck again. Just a few days ago, they struck again.

“I don’t know why they keep taking it, but I’m just sick of it,” she said. “I’m actually moving into a new house with a garage so this won’t happen again.”

After the second theft, Torney said her neighbor tried to help her thwart the thieves by adding safety measures to her Prius so the thieves couldn’t access her catalytic converter. It didn’t seem to work.

“He fixed it so they couldn’t get to it so easy,” she said. “He welded stuff onto the engine, cut off the tops of bolts and installed special sheeting underneath it, but they’d keep coming back with more tools.”

Torney isn’t the only victim of catalytic converter theft in Lodi. A nearby neighbor had the piece of machinery taken from his Honda a few days ago as well, she said.

According to Lodi Police Department shift summaries provided to the News-Sentinel, 19 catalytic converters have been removed from vehicles across the city between Dec. 17 and Jan. 14.

“It does feel like there’s a bit of an uptick in these kinds of thefts,” Lt. Eric Versteeg said. “But we’re not seeing any particular kind of pattern other than they occur some time during the night, and it’s typically Toyota-type vehicles that are targeted.”

Versteeg said it is unknown why a catalytic converter is more popular than that of other vehicle brands, but said they are most likely a little more valuable.

He added that law enforcement agencies cannot pinpoint why the thefts are once again on the rise.

“These kinds of thefts have been going on for years and years,” he said. “When I was a patrol officer a number of years ago we had quite a spike. We’re not exactly sure what’s causing this one. It could be a number of factors. I’m sure the early release of prisoners from jail isn’t helping.”

Alan Sanchez, spokesman for the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office, said thefts of catalytic converters are on the rise all across the county.

In 2020, the Sheriff’s Office received 111 reports of catalytic converter thefts, up from 17 reported in 2019. Sanchez said the department has received 17 reports in 2021.

“Suspects of these thefts tend to sell the platinum to local recycling centers,” he said. “Our street crimes team does work with local recycling centers to see if they are doing the right thing by properly documenting who they work with.”

Car and Driver, one of the leading automobile enthusiast magazines in the nation, reported recently that the platinum in catalytic converters was worth $1,000 an ounce last month.

However, two of the other rare earth metals found in catalytic converters are worth more per ounce than gold, according to the magazine.

Palladium prices are currently more than $2,300 per ounce, while the price of Rhodium has spiked to more than $16,000, Car and Driver said.

Catalytic converter thefts have risen across the country in the last year, as the ABC News station in Wichita, Kan., reported 500 incidents in 2020 compared to less than 200 in 2019.

Police in Lynchburg. Va., reported 31 thefts between September and Christmas Eve, while Manchester, N.H. has reported 22 between November and Christmas.

According to ABC10 in San Diego, that city’s police department reported seeing “a startling increase” in thefts of the exhaust component. Police there say thieves use tools such as saws to remove catalytic converters from underneath vehicles.

Vehicles not in view of surveillance systems, as well as Toyota Prius cars are targeted most frequently, officials said.

According to Allstate, you may not be able to tell your catalytic converter was stolen by looking at your car, but you will know as soon as you try to start the engine. When the part has been removed, your vehicle will make a loud roaring sound that gets worse as you press the accelerator. The car might also make a sputtering sound as you change speed, or you’ll notice it isn’t driving smoothly.

To prevent such thefts, Allstate recommends parking in well-lit areas near building entrances, parking your car in a garage if your residence has one, or welding the catalytic converter to your vehicle’s frame.

You can also try having the vehicle identification number engraved on the part to alert scrap dealers that it was stolen, or calibrate your car’s alarm to sound when it detects vibration, according to Allstate.

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