Catalytic converters are hot on the Christmas wish list of thieves. Three car dealerships in the Bay area have been hit in the past two months.
The thief or thieves are using the same method in all three cases, taking electrical saws, then crawling underneath expensive cars at smaller, privately-owned lots and going after what's inside those converters.
That little box on your car's manifold may not look like much at first glance, but it's a red-hot target for thieves in Pinellas County right now, with precious metals like platinum and copper inside.
"They're breaking into these businesses late at night or early in the morning and they're cutting the catalytic converters off the cars in the lots," said Sergeant David DiSano with the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office.
DiSano said there have been at least three robberies in Pinellas in the last few months, most recently at Import Autos on 34th Street North in St. Pete.
"We see them going in there with tools, various types of electrical saws," said DiSano.
But in this case, the alarm spooked the crooks and they got away with nothing. They were in the process of stealing six converters from underneath several big-ticket vehicles, like a Mercedes, BMW and Cadillac we saw for sale there.
"Just depending on the model, import or not, they can get anywhere from $30 to $150 for these things at scrap yards or metal recyclable places," said DiSano.
Security cameras caught two different images. One shows a man in a ski mask and the other with what appears to be a tattoo on his neck.
"Catalytic converters are generally located to the front of the vehicle," said Crown Automotive Service Manager Chris Sanborn, who gave us a tour of a typical car's underbelly.
"This is your standard catalytic converter," said Sanborn as he pointed underneath the car up on the rack. "They do come in different shapes and sizes, depending on the engine size and/or vehicle type."
And can cost you anywhere from $300 to $1,200 to replace. Some vehicles even have three converters onboard.
"So you have a front cat, a rear, these are uppers and then you have a rear catalytic converter," said Sanborn. "Crawling underneath one and trying to cut one out would be beyond my wildest imagination."
He said it's tough enough taking one out when you're standing underneath the car.
"And they are, a very thick pipe that they're attached to, so if somebody was trying to take them, it would be a challenge," said Sanborn.
Deputies report seeing a slight curbing of converter thefts, now that scrap yards are requiring you show them some sort of receipt of ownership before they'll buy it as scrap.
If you think you recognize the men in the security video, call the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office at (727) 582-6200 or you can remain anonymous and be eligible for a cash reward by calling Crime Stoppers at 1-800-873-TIPS (8477).
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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