Due to a rise in catalytic converter thefts, on Saturday, November 20, the Evanston Police Department sponsored a free catalytic converter marking event in the Morton Civic Center parking lot.

From 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., approximately 200 preregistered residents were able to drive up, check in and get the catalytic converters on their cars marked with spray paint, all within a few minutes. This community service was offered as a potential deterrent.

Where is a catalytic converter? Here, marked with red spray paint. (Photo by Wendi Kromash)

The theory behind spray-painting catalytic converters is that it may prevent theft: Spray-painting negatively affects the resale value of the part, thus making thieves less interested in cutting them out of a car. A similar program was tested in St. Paul, Minnesota, this spring with promising results.

A catalytic converter, an exhaust emission control device, is underneath any gasoline-powered vehicle. (Fully electric cars don’t have them.) Thieves steal the part for the resale value – the converters contain precious metals including rhodium and platinum, which scrap metal dealers extract and resell. Most scrap metal dealers will not purchase converters if the parts appear or are obviously stolen.

Officer Brian Rust spray-paints a car’s catalytic converter, marking it to deter thieves. (Photo by Wendi Kromash)

There were half a dozen officers at the Civic Center who kept the flow of cars moving quickly and efficiently. A car pulled up and the driver turned off the motor. A police officer then reached under the car with a can of bright red spray paint. A few seconds later, the same officer got up from underneath the car. Done. Next.

The drivers said they were grateful to take advantage of this free crime-prevention service. One woman, who did not want to give her name, said, “I have an old Honda and I’ve been quite lucky to be able to avoid having my catalytic converter stolen. I’m hoping this will help detract from any interest.” 

Another woman who did not want her name used was unfortunately very experienced with the problem. The car she drove to the event had already had one catalytic converter stolen. To add insult to injury, thieves came back and tried to steal the replacement, but fortunately for her, they were unsuccessful after being interrupted by an alert neighbor. She added, “I am hopeful that this [the spray paint] will serve as a deterrent.”

A sign duct-taped to a vehicle represents one low-tech option for deterring catalytic converter theft. (Photo by Wendi Kromash)

Officers explained that the crime takes less than a minute for an experienced team: One person jacks the car with a hydraulic lift while the second person takes a portable metal saw and cuts the converter cleanly off of the car. The car is lowered again and the thieves escape into the night, presumably in a vehicle driven by a third person.

Another tip the police offered at a recent community ward meeting was to increase lighting in parking areas. This kind of theft happens predominantly in shadows and darkness. And of course, a locked car is the basic line of defense against theft and carjacking for car owners.

Based on the positive community interest in and reception to this program, it is likely the EPD will offer it again in the spring.

 

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  1. The article says locked cars are less vulnerable. Did you mean garaged cars?
    The link to register was inoperable… and in a few days registration was closed. I hope this service will be offered again soon.