Evanston sees string of catalytic converter thefts


Daily file photo by Daniel Tian

Two parked Evanston Police Department cars. Evanston saw ten catalytic converter thefts in the past month.

Elena Hubert, Assistant City Editor

Sixteen catalytic converters have been stolen from Evanston vehicles since March, according to police reports. 

A catalytic converter is a device that decreases the toxicity of gasses emitted from fuel combustion in gas-powered or hybrid cars. People target the converters for the precious metals they contain: rhodium, palladium and platinum. The city has experienced about 200 converter thefts since January 2021.

Evanston Police Department Sgt. Chelsea Brown said catalytic converters are often stolen with power tools in residential areas at night. Brown cautioned residents against approaching people stealing catalytic converters, who tend to work in groups and have been armed in the past.

“We’ve had some violent encounters,” Brown said. 

Evanston is not alone in seeing a catalytic converter theft uptick. A 2021 report from State Farm Insurance found these thefts increased nationwide by almost 300% in the second half of 2020 and first half of 2021 compared to the previous year. The report also said Illinois had the fifth highest number of converter thefts during that period.

Brown said the most targeted cars in Evanston are Hondas and Toyotas. That’s because those cars — specifically the Toyota Prius — have a higher concentration of precious metals in their converters, said Aviv Zafrir, the shop operator of Factory Muffler & Complete Auto Repair in Skokie.  

Zafrir said he gets three to four calls a week about replacing stolen converters. He estimated the costs associated with converter thefts for victims range from $1,000 to $2,000, while stolen second-hand converters sell for around $800 to $900 to scrap yards.

“They need to … enforce some kind of rule where (the scrap yards) that are collecting or paying for them, they need to stop those places,” Zafrir said.

Evanston resident Chuck Haeger’s catalytic converter was stolen from his 2000 Jeep Grand Cherokee last June. He said he noticed the theft after discovering the detached muffler and exhaust pipes from his car in the street.

Haeger said he ended up spending more than $400 at a local auto shop for a new catalytic converter, muffler and pipes.

“I went through what a lot of people would go through, which is like, ‘Why does somebody have to mess with me and my car?’” Haeger said.

Zafrir suggested car owners invest in the installation of a metal shield for the converter, which serves as a barrier against converter theft, and avoid parking vehicles outside to deter thefts if possible. 

EPD hosted an event last November where officers spray-painted “EPD” on about 200 participants’ catalytic converters. Brown said the measure served as a deterrent, and no attendees reported their converters were stolen afterward.

The department plans to host another event in a parking lot on campus in partnership with NU at an unannounced date.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @elenahubert25

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