When Lacey Sims left her Athens home for work the morning of Jan. 26, she didn’t get far before the car malfunctioned.
At a local dealership, she learned the catalytic converter had been stolen and her exhaust system heavily damaged by the thief. The shop’s estimate for repairing the 2005 Toyota Prius: $3,009.
“I just bought my car for about $4,500, so it’s not worth fixing. I’ll have to buy another car now,” she said Thursday.
Sims is one of numerous victims of thieves who have been stealing catalytic converters off vehicles this year. Theft reports from the past two weeks show the crimes are occurring during night hours across Athens-Clarke County.
The catalytic converter is an emission-control device required on vehicles to reduce pollution.
Athens-Clarke police assigned Det. Erik Hogan to investigate the cases, but he reported there are no suspects.
“Investigators think that the catalytic converters could be being reused as parts and do not necessarily believe that the items are being sold as scrap metal,” police Lt. Shaun Barnett said.
The detective also does not think all of the thefts are connected as there could more than one group responsible, according to Barnett.
Car and Driver magazine reported in a December 2020 article that some thieves steal the devices to collect palladium and rhodium — metals more valuable than gold per ounce.
Stealing a catalytic converter can be quick business for a crook as often a pipe cutter is the only tool needed to detach it from underneath a car.
“If they have a cordless saw, they can be under your car and have it stolen before you can turn around,” said Danny Atchley of Tyner Truck and Auto Repairs in Athens.
“A friend of mine — it wasn’t in Athens — he caught the guys under his car. He was armed (with a gun) and stopped them, but he was in a parking lot at a mall,” Atchley said.
The cost of replacing the converters varies from hundreds of dollars to more than a thousand, as reflected in Athens-Clarke police reports.
“It’s not cheap,” said Angel Christless of Top Dog Auto Repair in Athens. “It can go up into the thousands.”
The converters are different on different brands of cars, with some having sensors important to a vehicle’s operation, according to Christless.
“I’ve had a couple of calls come in that people are stealing them in Athens,” she said.
Sims was driving a Toyota Prius, a frequently targeted car because the precious metals in converters on hybrid cars are less damaged by use.
Three other Prius cars were also targeted, police reports show.
On Jan. 26, a resident of Picadilly Square reported the converter was stolen off her Prius during the night. She had a tow truck remove the car for repairs. A 26-year-old resident of Cedar Shoals Drive reported a similar theft on his Prius on Jan. 26.
Also on Jan. 22, a resident of Baxter Street reported her Prius was targeted, but she saw the thieves.
The woman told police she awoke about 2:30 a.m. to a noise outside and saw two men who had her car lifted with a jack. When she shouted at them, they fled in a car described only as a light-colored sedan. The men wore ski masks and gloves.
When the woman started her car, she described it as sounding like a motorcycle, according to police.
The estimated cost of repairs was $2,000.
Among other reports, thieves stole converters off a box truck at a business off Newton Bridge Road and from a Chevrolet Express van in the 900 block of West Broad Street, according to reports.
Anyone with information regarding these or similar thefts is asked to contact Hogan at [email protected] or at (762) 400-7306.