By Mac Larsen | CNA Media Team
When you search “catalytic converter theft” on Concordia Nextdoor.com, you’ll see countless posts of desperate neighbors dismayed that they, too, have been victims of the crime.
This form of petty theft is so common in the Portland metro area that many car owners see catalytic converter theft as almost inevitable, leaving many wondering, “Why does this seem to always happen?” and “What can be done?”
Michael French awoke in his home in southwest Concordia to discover his car was missing from the spot he’d parallel parked it the evening before.
“Generally thieves will cut the converter out of a car without taking the entire car,” he said. His experience was the opposite. Three days later police found his car not far from home. The catalytic converter was the only thing that appeared to be missing or damaged.
“The car, otherwise, was in good condition, and nobody had ever gotten inside it,” Michael said. “It was still locked.”
Auto mechanics are on the front lines of dealing with this problem. Ron Johnson, a local mechanic, has observed a steep increase in catalytic converter theft over the past few years. He said the shop is replacing the catalytic converters of about 50 Priuses a year.
According to Ron, for the Gen 2 Prius like Michael’s, it takes only three minutes to remove the catalytic converter if the thieves have the proper equipment and a makeshift tow jack. A neighbor who saw Michael’s Prius stolen noticed the thieves used the back of a pick-up truck to move the car away from the neighborhood.
Generally, thieves are stealing the converters for the rare metals they contain – palladium and rhodium – and a Prius converter can sell for about $1,200 as scrap metal.
Peter Keller in south central Concordia had his own experience with would-be thieves when he was awakened at 5 a.m. to what he said sounded like a train derailing. Using two hacksaws, the thieves were halfway through removing the converter when Peter made a commotion and scared them off.
The tide may turn Jan. 1 when Oregon Senate Bill 803 takes effect. It prohibits scrap metal businesses from purchasing or receiving catalytic converters, and it passed by a majority in both the Senate and House.
Mac Larsen is a graduate student at the University of Oregon, pursuing a master’s degree in journalism. He grew up in Concordia neighborhood and can be found frequently on Alberta Street, complaining about all the construction.