I've written a lot about Moose, my 1994 Toyota 4Runner. Well, today I hopped in the driver's seat ready for a trip to the dog park, and when I turned the ignition I immediately knew that something was wrong. Moose's normally placid exhaust note was replaced by a blat that sounded like an unmufflered motorcycle. I turned off the key, and went to investigate. Sure enough, I found four bolts and an exhaust hanger on the ground under my SUV. Someone had crawled underneath, unbolted my catalytic converter and absconded.
I had to laugh at the irony of the situation. Just this weekend, I had mentioned this article from the Los Angeles Times to Aaron Gold, About.com's Guide to Cars, while we were doing a little bit of work on his car. Apparently, catalytic converter theft is an epidemic across the country because the price of platinum, one of the metals in the converter, has skyrocketed. Thieves can get $40 to $50 for a converter from an unscrupulous scrap metal dealer. Toyota 4Runners are particular targets -- not only do their catalytic converters contain plenty of platinum, their high ground clearance makes them particularly easy targets. A thief with a socket wrench can remove a 4Runner's converter in minutes.
When I called the police to report the crime, Officer Padilla told me that I was the second victim in the area this week. My insurance agent told me that his girlfriend's 4Runner was stripped in a department store parking lot; the service manager at the Toyota dealership called it "an epidemic."
The bad news is that it's going to cost over $1100 to affect the repair and replacement. The worse news is that there's not much I can do to protect against another theft. I'm having the dealership weld the bolts on, so that the converter won't be so easy to remove. But a thief with a reciprocating saw can still swipe a cat in no time flat.
I guess Moose has finally earned that spot in the garage that he's been coveting for so long. At least until I can install an alarm on his catalytic converter.
A word to the wise -- keep an eye on your 4Runner. Park in your garage at home, park in conspicuous spots at malls and department stores. Keep an ear out for your alarm, and check your insurance coverage to make sure that you don't get burned. Let's hope that the police can put some pressure on scrap metal dealers to kill the market for these parts before catalytic converter theft spins completely out of control.
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Photo © Jason Fogelson