Here’s one way to deter catalytic converter thefts: Paint them pink

With thefts rampant in the city, Chicago police are hosting an event next month that could save some car owners the money and hassle of replacing the oft-stolen parts.

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Alex Cheser with his Toyota Prius. Thieves cut the catalytic converter out of his car’s exhaust system last month.

Thieves cut the catalytic converter out of Alex Cheser’s Toyota Prius when it was parked outside his home last month.

Brian Rich/Sun-Times

Ravenswood resident Alex Cheser noticed his Toyota Prius was a lot louder after relatives stayed with him one recent weekend.

He let them park in his garage. He parked on the street. After they left, as he was pulling back into the garage, he heard the problem.

“My Prius went from being very quiet to sounding like a motorcycle,” Cheser said.

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That’s because thieves had cut apart his exhaust system to remove the catalytic converter, which is part of the emission control system.

The next day, Cheser filed a police report. He’s far from alone.

Thefts of the converters are increasing, with thieves going after them because they contain small amounts of the precious metals rhodium, palladium and platinum. The National Insurance Crime Bureau says these metals sell for thousands of dollars an ounce; a thief could get $50 to $250 for a converter at a recycling center.

It’s also relatively easy to slide under a car and cut a converter out of the exhaust system, as Cheser found out.

But the Chicago Police Department’s 14th District, which serves the Logan Square and Wicker Park area, has come up with a way to deter those thieves.

People who reside in the district — bounded roughly by Division Street on the south, Belmont Avenue on the north, the Chicago River on the east and Central Park Avenue on the west — can take part.

On Sept. 11, district residents can go to Moos Elementary School, 1711 N. California Ave., starting at 10 a.m., where officers will spray paint the converters using neon pink paint, and will also mark them with “Chicago Police 014.” The idea is to deter theft by making converters harder to resell.

A CPD spokesperson said the 14th District Community Policing office met with residents to discuss the problem, and the idea for painting and marking the converters came from a resident who saw other police departments doing something similar. The National Insurance Crime Bureau found 52,206 reported incidents of catalytic converter theft in 2021, up 1,215% since 2019 and 203% since 2020.

A spokesperson for the insurance bureau said many owners don’t bother to report catalytic converter thefts, since they can’t afford the $1,500 to $5,000 replacement cost and don’t have comprehensive coverage, which would pay for the loss.

To deter thieves, the NICB advises vehicle owners to install an anti-theft device — essentially a cage mounted around the converter — and park in well-lit areas when possible.

Cheser is considering a cage, but a worker at the auto shop that replaced his converter didn’t think it would stop thieves, just slow them down.

After his experience, Cheser says he hopes to see state or federal legislation to regulate or ban the resale of catalytic converters.

“It seems like it’s only increasing,” Cheser said. “It can hit people in a really terrible time where they need reliable transportation and then have to pivot to public transit, which at times isn’t reliable.”

The bottom of a car missing its catalytic converter.

It’s relatively easy for thieves to slide under a parked car and cut the catalytic converter out of the exhaust system. The converters contain small amounts of precious metals.

Matt Rourke/Associated Press

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