West Town catalytic converter theft caught on camera; mechanics seeing uptick in incidents

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Chicago mechanics say catalytic converter thefts are on the rise, and one in West Town in broad daylight that was caught on camera.

In video taken by a neighbor, you can see a pair of legs squirming under a half-tilted Toyota Prius. Onlookers said the apparent thief was splayed beneath the car in broad daylight in a West Town parking long as he cut out the catalytic converter. Hours later, still unaware, the car's owner came out of work.

"I start my engine and my engine made the loudest rumbling noise I think I've ever heard," said the victim Aubin, who only shared his first name. "To the point where it scared me."

After a quick glance around the parking space, he noticed something.

"I started noticing on the ground around me all types of scraps of metal," he said. "I look up under the car and I could see, like, wires and parts hanging down from the car. First thought was someone came and took the catalytic converter."

They had. In broad daylight and in less than two minutes, a team of three made off with the pricey car part.

"There are three main elements in a catalytic converter: platinum, palladium and robium. Very valuable elements," explained Matt Tefka, owner of Fulton-Desplaines Garage. "They are stealing them, turn them into different amenities that can pay for them, and they move on to the next car."

At this point, mechanics say customers roaring in needing replacements for stolen catalytic converters is routine. And it's a costly fix.

"An average of $1,000 is pretty standard. At this point we're doing two to three a week," he said.

Last spring, an I-Team investigation uncovered a sharp rise in this type of crime. Data from the National Insurance Crime Bureau found that in 2019 there were more than 3,300 catalytic converter thefts across the country, but in 2020 that jumped to more than 14,000. Illinois ranked fifth in the nation.

And unfortunately for drivers like Aubin, mechanics say Priuses seem to be prime targets.

"For whatever reason Prius has a very expense converter in it and that is one of the few low to the ground cars that these guys are absolutely going after," Tefka said.
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