Call Them 'Cat' Burglars

For Gearheards, a catalytic converter is an anti-pollution device located on the exhaust system of every car and truck. For small-time thieves, "cat cons" are becoming a quick and easy payday. Cops from Maine to California are reporting a surge in cat-con thefts, because each one contains a few grams of platinum, which has skyrocketed in price from $500 an ounce in 2000 to more than $1,500 today. In Stockton, Calif., thieves took off with more than 400 cat cons last year; Akron, Ohio, police report about 100 such thefts from used-car lots just since Dec. 20. Criminals need only a minute to slip under a vehicle, remove the bulky part with wrenches or saws and disappear. Police officials say the crooks then sell the cat cons to salvage yards for between $25 and $200. The bill to replace them can run to up $2,000, says John Nielsen, director of the AAA's national Auto Repair Network. No one keeps national statistics on cat-con theft, Nielsen says, so the full scope isn't clear. But "as long as someone's willing to pay for it, someone will steal it," says Nielsen. One prevention tip: "cat" burglars tend to target SUVs and other high-clearance vehicles for the ease of theft and higher platinum yields—so maybe it's time to trade in the big pickup for a low-rider.