LAKE OF THE OZARKS, Mo. — Thieves have lately been targeting a very specific car part at Lake of the Ozarks. The catalytic converter, an exhaust emission control device, has been stolen off the trucks and vans of several local businesses including Straight Flush Plumbing, Lloyd Belt Automotive, Sunset Tire and John Elliot Interiors.
“I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why that piece of our exhaust system was missing, I thought it might have been a prank,” said Luke Elliot, of John Elliot Interiors. “We started up the truck and it sounded like a boat instead of a truck, and we looked down and just saw freshly cut metal on the exhaust system.”
Catalytic converters contain valuable metals such as platinum, rhodium and palladium and bring $50–100 from a scrap metal dealer. It can take as little as two minutes for thieves with a battery-powered saw to remove a converter off a vehicle. And at the Lake of the Ozarks, it’s a terribly common crime.
“It’s been a pretty prolific theft throughout the Ozarks here lately because people can go cut them off a vehicle that's been sitting awhile and go take them in and sell them,” said Chris Twitchel, with the Camden County Sheriff’s Office. “People do it because it’s quick and easy crime: they get underneath a car and cut it off and leave.”
According to Twitchel, hundreds of catalytic converters are stolen from Camden County vehicles every year. And the cost to repair a car that’s had a catalytic converter stolen is well beyond the price thieves can get for the converter.
“It was $3,000 dollars to repair, plus they stole what’s called a trash pump that pumps out water from ditches, that was $300 that they stole as well,” said Steve Ryan, owner of Straight Flush Plumbing.
The security measures that some businesses have taken to avoid getting hit again are another expense on top of the vehicle repair.
“I have since replaced my security cameras, now I have an electronic fence that senses motion from 7 o'clock tonight to 6 o’clock in the morning. We’re parking our vehicles differently so they’re fully exposed and the night vision is great on the camera. And that was another 1,500 dollars!” Ryan said.
Vans and trucks that sit high above the ground are some of the most common targets, since it’s easier to access the converter underneath. And businesses that have multiple trucks and vans are especially at risk since it gives thieves an opportunity to steal more converters in a single go.
“Most of the time cars don’t have a lot stolen off of them because they're not very high off the ground,” Twitchel explained. “If you see somebody underneath a vehicle and they’ve got tools and they're down there messing with stuff, chances are they're up to no good, so we suggest you call law enforcement and we’ll go over there and check them out.”
But for the people—many of whom are local business owners—who have been targeted, the worst part is wondering when it will happen again.
"I didn’t take it personal because they’re doing it to so many people, but it’s upsetting because now we have to be on our guard," Ryan said. "Now I have a loaded shotgun ready because if the alarm gets sounded and someone’s out there I’ll fire a warning shot. It’s just a shame we have to turn to those measures."
What can you do to protect yourself?
If you’re worried about your own car, truck or van, consider these tips to protect your catalytic converter. (Credit to this article.)
Don't Park In The Dark
Park your vehicle in well-lit areas and close to building entrances.
Clear Out The Junk, And Pull The Car In
If you have a garage, you now have the motivation you needed to clean it out! Keeping your car inside with the door shut will likely keep thieves out.
Consider having your catalytic converter welded to the vehicle frame. That would make it quite a bit harder for thieves to swipe it quickly... so they might not swipe it at all.
You always wondered what to do with that engraver you got for Christmas. Use it to etch your Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) on the catalytic converter — this can help alert a scrap dealer that it was stolen and make it easier to identify the owner.
A car alarm that goes off when it detects vibration will likely send thieves running before they have a chance to do much damage.
If you have had your catalytic converter stolen, contact local law enforcement.