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Catalytic converters attract thieves due to the precious metals from which the auto parts are made.

A simple car part can put hundreds of dollars in the pockets of thieves and cost vehicle owners a thousand or more to replace.

Thieves have stolen or tried to take multiple catalytic converter in Jackson County over the last couple months.

Why? The answer’s simple, according to Karen Wells, criminal administrator with the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office.

“Catalytic converters are a quick and easy steal,” she said. 

A catalytic converter generally resembles a cannister and is part of the vehicle’s exhaust system. They were mandated for all U.S. cars and trucks in 1975 to convert harmful pollutants in the exhaust into less-harmful vehicle emissions before being released into the air.

Catalytic converter theft is becoming more common in Jackson and surrounding counties, including Linn County, Wells said.

That fact shows in Maquoketa Law Center dispatch calls for service during January and February. “Catalytic converter” had not appeared in recent memory in those calls for service. However, at least six catalytic converter thefts or attempted thefts were reported in Jackson County this year:

Jan. 15: Catalytic converters were reported removed and stolen from two vehicles at 3118 Highway 61, Maquoketa.

Jan. 26: The exhaust and catalytic converter reportedly were cut off a vehicle in the 200 block of South Matteson Street, Maquoketa.

Jan. 27: Catalytic converters were reported stolen from two moving trucks at 212 Manufacturing Drive, Preston.

Feb. 6: A catalytic converter was reported stolen at 5122 525th Ave.

Feb. 7: A Preston caller reported that someone parked next door, went onto private property, and apparently wanted catalytic converters there.

Feb. 10: Officers conducted a traffic stop in Sabula and in the vehicle found burglary tools that could be used for stealing catalytic converters such as a grinder and Sawzall. As of press time, no charges had been filed in that incident.

Feb. 15: A Sabula man reported seeing someone under his son’s truck “sawing something.” The caller stepped outside and the person reportedly left.

Stealing a catalytic converter requires little time and effort, Wells said. 

“It takes two cuts with a Sawzall, or something similar, to remove.”

Vehicle owners won’t necessarily see that the part is missing, but they’ll hear it and might even smell toxic fumes from it. The vehicle likely will make a loud, rumbling sound when the driver turns on the engine, and that sound will increase if the driver presses the gas pedal.

Catalytic converters can fetch a tidy sum of money for such little work, Wells added.

“Individuals are turning them in for scrap and receiving between $75 and $1,000. Catalytic converters have platinum at  about $1,105/ounce and palladium at $2,296/ounce in them,” Wells explained.

Recyclers then extract the precious metals and resell them.

Meanwhile, vehicle owners may pay nearly $1,000 or more for a new catalytic converter and labor fees.

To avoid that cost, insurance companies and law enforcement recommend parking vehicles inside a garage with the doors shut and locked when not in use, if possible. If not, park them in the driveway or well-lighted areas.

If in a parking lot, park close to well-lighted areas and building entrances, if possible.

Also, report suspicious activity and catalytic converter theft at the closest law enforcement center.