MOORHEAD — Summer Graydon knew something was wrong when she started her car one recent morning and it started making a very loud sound.
As she began driving, she could also smell exhaust fumes entering the car's interior.
Graydon drove to a muffler shop, where workers put the vehicle on a lift and promptly informed her that someone had removed her catalytic converter.
"I was in shock. I was, like, 'They what?''' Graydon said, recalling her surprise.
Graydon said she believes the device was removed while her car was parked overnight in the parking lot of the retirement apartment complex in Moorhead where she lives, an area she said is well lit.
Replacing the catalytic converter cost Graydon $450 — and someone at the shop where the repair was done told her she wasn't the only one getting a new catalytic converter.
"He said he had done 10 of them in a week's time," Graydon said.
That would come as no surprise to area police.
Over the past six months, Fargo police have received more than 90 reports of stolen catalytic converters, while Moorhead police say they've had more than two dozen reports of similar crimes.
West Fargo is apparently being bypassed during the area's latest uptick in catalytic converter thefts, as police there recently stated they had received just one report.
Catalytic converters are part of a vehicle's exhaust system that help reduce pollutants that can harm people and the environment.
Authorities say they're not sure how many of the area's recent theft cases may be related to each other, but the possibility one or more were perpetrated by the same individual or individuals is being looked into.
The rash of thefts mirrors what is happening elsewhere. Police in the Twin Cities report receiving dozens of similar thefts in recent months as cold weather has kept people indoors, improving the chances thieves won't be noticed crawling under vehicles to saw or otherwise remove catalytic converters from exhaust systems.
In late December, police in Jamestown, N.D., alerted the public that catalytic converters were being stolen in that community.
Thieves aren't stealing converters for their value as a car part, but instead for the metals they contain, including platinum, palladium, and rhodium, which can be sold to scrap metal dealers.
"The suspect will go under the vehicle and either remove it (the converter) by taking the bolts off, but most commonly they will use some type of saw, usually we assume a cordless, reciprocating saw, and cut the pipe on the front and back and remove it within minutes," said Capt. Deric Swenson with Moorhead police.
In the case of higher profile vehicles that have greater ground clearance, such as trucks, it's even easier for thieves to remove converters, Swenson added.
Fargo police provided a number of tips that may help prevent catalytic converter theft:
- When possible, park in well-lit areas close to building entrances.
- Keep vehicles in a garage and keep the garage door shut.
- Have the catalytic converter welded to the vehicle's frame, which may make it harder to steal.
- Consider engraving the vehicle's identification number on the converter; it may alert a scrap dealer that it was stolen.
- Set a vehicle's alarm to go off if it detects vibration.