GENESEE COUNTY (WJRT) (02/13/2020) - Thieves are targeting parking lots across Genesee County.
They're not looking for what's inside in this case. Instead, they're looking for what's underneath vehicles, which can cost drivers thousands of dollars.
Genesee County Sheriff Chris Swanson said the thieves are after metals inside of catalytic converters. Vehicles in parking lots, storage units and dealerships have been hit.
Catalytic converters contain small amounts of rhodium, palladium and platinum, which convert toxic substances in exhaust into clean compounds.
The Genesee Auto-Theft Investigation Network, or GAIN, team says there have been over 100 catalytic converter thefts since the end of October 2019.
GAIN says prices of the three precious metals inside are going up right now, making the converters a popular target for thieves. When it goes missing, drivers will know something isn't right by the deafening sound.
"I discovered it when I went out to start the truck just to get it warmed up, and I immediately knew what happened once I turned the truck on, and there was a loud noise that was telling me that they were missing," Tim Look said.
Look owns and operates his own estate sale company in Genesee County. His vehicle was parked at his business and his catalytic converter was stolen on Feb. 1.
For a truck, a thief could be in and out in just a few short minutes.
"I can't imagine doing it without a jack, you know, jacking the side of the car up. Where on a truck, you could very, very easily slide under there and have it off in less than three minutes," said Randy Thomason said, a manager at Muffler Man.
Look thought it would cost about $500 to replace, but the two catalytic converters will cost him a whopping $3,000.
"You work hard. You do the right things and there's people out there that are opportunists that when they see something like that, it feels like it's easy money to them, so they just take advantage," Look said.
The cost to replace the part can range from $90 to a few hundred dollars. The sheriff's office says the thieves usually sell the catalytic converters to scrap yards for about $70.
This isn't a Michigan-specific problem. Among other cities, it's a recent issue in Philadelphia as well. Police there are warning people to install some sort of theft prevention device.
A catalytic converter lock costs about $175, but there are cheaper ways too. Drivers can install a coil security cable for a fraction of that price with just a bit more work.
As for what businesses can do to stop these sort of thefts from happening on their property, police say installing lighting in parking lots is step number one.
The second is to install a monitoring system of some kind and put up signs, so would-be criminals know they're being watched at all times.