For motorists, the catalytic converter is a required part that helps reduce harmful vehicle emissions. But for opportunistic thieves, it represents an opportunity to make a fast buck.
Catalytic converters have become popular targets for thieves eager to cash in on climbing metal commodity prices across the country, and Collier County is no exception.
The Collier County Sheriff's Office is investigating the theft of more than two dozen catalytic converters from vehicles parked at two local automobile dealerships in recent weeks.
CCSO is advising auto dealerships and recycling centers to be watchful in the wake of these thefts.
Catalytic converters are typically made from a precious metal such as platinum, palladium or rhodium. There are approximately 3 to 7 grams of platinum in a standard catalytic converter. The converters can be sold to recycling centers for $7 to $9.50 a pound. The average catalytic converter weighs typically more than 10 pounds.
Sixteen catalytic converters were stolen from Tamiami Hyundai, 1229 Airport-Pulling Road, East Naples, sometime during May 2 or May 3. The thief or thieves crawled under 16 new Santa Fe sport utility vehicles for sale in the parking lot and removed the converters.
All of the catalytic converters were removed from the same models. All of the vehicles use the same catalytic converters. Detectives said the converters were held in place by bolts. It would take a trained person only a few minutes to remove the parts.
On May 5, Airport Kia reported the theft of nine catalytic converters from new Sorentos and Sportages parked in the dealership lot at 3325 Westview Drive in East Naples.
The theft occurred sometime between April 25 and May 5. Bolts were located under all of the vehicles that had converters removed.
Sgt. Mark Williamson of the CCSO General Crimes Bureau said detectives don't believe individual vehicle owners in Collier are in any danger of being a victim.
"This seems to be a trend of strictly automobile dealerships," Sgt. Williamson said, noting that car lots offer access to multiple vehicles of the same model.
Williamson said there are steps dealerships can take to protect against this type of theft. Those steps include basic security measures such as installing good security lighting and video surveillance cameras. Protective coverings for catalytic converters, though pricey, can deter thieves as well.
Deputies have been visiting area dealerships to make them aware of the problem and to offer safety tips.
Williamson encouraged recycling centers to be watchful for people coming in with unusual quantities of catalytic converters to sell. Recyclers are urged to notify CCSO when this occurs.