GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) - Chris Hampton made the first cut required for thieves to steal a catalytic converter from a car. It took just 9 seconds with a powerful saw.
"That's one end," said the mechanic at McGraw Tire & Auto Repair in Grand Rapids, explaining how easy it is to steal one.
He figures it takes less than a minute in all.
"If you went into a lot, crawled under a couple of mini-vans, I imagine in a half-hour you could probably have a good four of them off, easy, if you're really quick at it," he said.
That's what happened in broad daylight Sunday in the Grand Rapids area -- thieves stole four converters from cars at Knapp's Corner on East Beltline Avenue NE, another on Monroe Avenue and another behind a restaurant on Leonard Street NE.
They steal them for what's inside -- precious metals, including platinum, used to filter pollutants from a car's exhaust system.
Cars with low clearance, experts say, are among the least likely to be targeted.
"Even the thieves are lazy," explained Jason Emanouil, co-owner of Enterprise Metal and Iron in Grand Rapids. "They figure, why crawl underneath a car you've got to work hard at?"
That's why some thieves go after vans and SUVS, which have enough room underneath to cut out the converter, he said.
But that didn't seem to matter on Sunday.
Jason Cady couldn't believe that thieves targeted his Chevrolet Cavalier. It has just 8 inches of clearance -- not much room for a thief to work.
"Just started it up and it sounded like a tank, basically. It's the loudest thing I've ever heard," Cady said.
He's not sure if insurance will cover the $200 to fix it.
"It's disgusting," he said. "We're less than two months from Christmas. Now I've got to dip into my Christmas money."
He thinks police should look for a thief with long arms.
"Somebody lanky, tall and lanky, who can reach under there without having to fit their whole body under there," Cady suggested.
Local scrap yard owners say state law makes it difficult for thieves to sell the metals locally. Scrappers are required to leave a thumbprint and show photo ID whenever they trade metal for money.
They think the thieves are traveling elsewhere to sell the catalytic converters.
"That's an item that's worth more in the bigger cities. Detroit, Chicago -- that's where they all kind of end up," Emanouil said.
A local auto parts shop says thefts led a Canadian company to market an anti-theft system for the converters. It includes heavy, braided steel cables.
"You'd literally have this cable system strung across your whole converter pipe assembly," Mitch Smith of Motown Automotive said.
The kits cost $175, not including labor -- about the same price as the catalytic converter it's meant to protect.
Smith said he's sold only two of the kits since June of 2008.
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