Jenette Martinez, a crime prevention specialist with the Costa Mesa Police Department, marveled at the number of cars lined up at a Huntington Beach repair shop as police regulated traffic.
The line was so deep in the early hours that ExperTec Automotive had to open 45 minutes earlier than expected for what has become an increasingly popular service: catalytic converter etching.
The Huntington Beach Police Department co-hosted the free event with the Costa Mesa and Newport Beach Police Departments on Saturday, November 13. Cities, like so many others in the region, have seen a sharp increase this year in catalytic converter theft – exhaust emission controls are a standard part of gasoline and diesel vehicles.
Huntington Beach has sponsored several engraving events this year at ExperTec Automotive, which donates the workforce. It was the first in which they teamed up with other cities and did so without a date.
“Too often when we collect catalytic converters it is almost impossible to link them to their owners,” said Jennifer Carey, spokesperson for the Huntington Beach Police Department. “It makes it difficult for us to press charges or prosecute. “
“It happens so fast – a matter of minutes,” Carey said of the time it takes to cut the part from the underside of a vehicle. “Thieves come in and out. They usually target cars parked on the street.
For about five hours on Saturday, eight hydraulic elevators raised and lowered 130 vehicles as the whine of technicians’ engraving tools pierced the air. They put inch-high license plate numbers in the converters
“It’s pretty visible to a potential thief. It can be a deterrent, ”said Carey. It can also help the police to return stolen goods.
ExperTec Automotive can also install metal plates that cover the catalytic converter as an additional layer of defense.
For the Cam family, this crime is all too real. During their 30-minute wait, Dorothy Cam described how a home security camera captured two men, one as a lookout and the other under their family car, almost stealing the device. Criminals were scared off by another car at 3 a.m. in the Huntington Beach neighborhood. The Cams brought their two cars for the engraving.
ExperTec chief executive Gary Frahm said taller cars, such as SUVs and vans, are more sensitive because criminals can easily crawl underneath to do their mess with a saw.
When the catalytic converter is removed, “the car will start,” Frahm explained. “But the check engine light will come on, the engine will be very loud, and there will probably only be 20% power.”
Tube-shaped converters, typically weighing around 10 pounds and measuring 14 inches long, contain honeycomb structures coated with precious metals such as platinum, palladium, and rhodium, which break down pollutants. These metals can net a criminal hundreds of dollars at a metals recycler. Larger cars can have up to four of these devices.
Some cities, including Huntington Beach, are considering following Irvine’s recent example in trying to make it easier to chase thieves. Irvine council backs a new municipal law that would make it illegal to own a catalytic converter that is not attached to a vehicle unless there are documents, such as a bill of sale or an invoice. ‘a repair shop, proving ownership.
Toyota Prius models are at the top of the casualty list because their catalytic converters consume the most money.
“I’ve never seen so many Prius in one place,” Frahm joked at the event. “That and the Ford pickup trucks.”
Frahm said his store receives about four vehicles a week with stolen catalytic converters and repairs range from $ 450 to $ 3,000.
“I hope this will deter thefts,” he said. “I like fixing cars, but I don’t like fixing cars that have had things stolen. “
Technician Juan Martinez had a similar vision.
After his car was stolen during the COVID-19 shutdown, Martinez said he knew what it was like to be a victim of dishonesty: “You work hard to get money for your food. It shouldn’t happen.
Police say they hope to host another event soon.
Susan Goulding contributed to this report.