Police urge precautions as catalytic converters are targeted for theft

CHAMPAIGN-URBANA, Illinois – Four law enforcement agencies in Champaign-Urbana are urging residents to take precautions after receiving more than 160 separate reports of catalytic converter thefts since the beginning of 2021.

The Champaign Police Department, Champaign County Sheriff’s Office, Urbana Police Department and University of Illinois Police Department have been working to prevent thefts and hold offenders accountable. Reports are being actively investigated, and officers and deputies are conducting directed patrols to create a visible law enforcement presence in the areas where thefts are known to occur.

The thefts reported in Champaign-Urbana have occurred all over Champaign County and at all times of the day. YouTube videos from other cities show how it only takes a thief a minute or two to get under a vehicle and cut off the catalytic converter.

“They can get in and out pretty quickly, so it’s critical that our community members take steps to protect their vehicles,” said U. of I. Police Assistant Chief Joe McCullough. “And please help us out too – community members are our eyes and ears on the street, so let us know immediately if you observe any suspicious activity.”

A catalytic converter is part of your car’s exhaust system, and it helps to neutralize some of the toxic chemicals expelled from your engine. It is a hot item for thieves because of the valuable metals it contains.

Although a single catalytic converter only brings in about $10 to $20 at a scrap yard, it can be a major repair for the car owner when it is taken. Having a mechanic replace the part can range between $1,000 and $2,000 depending on the vehicle – not to mention the inconvenience of being without your normal transportation for several days.

That makes it important to take some precautions to prevent theft:

  • The easiest way to prevent theft is by parking your vehicle indoors if you have the space to do it.
  • If you normally park your vehicle on the street or in a parking lot, try to find a well-lit location in a relatively busy area.
  • Car owners can also purchase anti-theft devices for their catalytic converters which prevent theft by making the part more difficult to cut off.
  • Report suspicious activity. If you see people working under a vehicle at a time or place where vehicle maintenance wouldn’t typically be conducted, call 911 to report a possible crime in progress.

To prevent all thefts – either of your catalytic converter or of items inside your vehicle – it is critical to lock all car doors when you leave the vehicle unattended, and either take valuables with you or hide them so they are not visible.

It is important that community members report suspicious activity. Stealing a catalytic converter requires the thief to get under the car, and often the act of cutting it from the vehicle is noisy. If you notice any of this activity at an unusual time and place, call 911 to report a potential crime in progress.