Thieves Steal 2 Catalytic Converters From Cars Parked On NEIU Campus

Robbery of these devices had soared since the Covid-19 pandemic started


Illustration made by Savannah Owens

Erwin Lopez Rada, News Editor

Thieves stripped the catalytic converters from two Toyota Prius cars in heists that occurred in the parking garage and Parking Lot F on the NEIU main campus in a span of less than 24 hours.  

NEIU Police reported that the robberies occurred between Aug. 3 and Aug. 4, 2022. The specific hours and details of the crimes are still to be determined by the police. 

Interim Chief of NEIU Police Cindy Guerra said that her department “has been actively patrolling all NEIU lots, including the garage, with an increased police presence on all watches. We have been in contact with facilities to repair broken or downed lights around campus, so it remains well lit.”

The catalytic converter is a piece by the tailpipe of a car that converts harmful residual gasses from combustion into something less dangerous for the environment. The devices had become a valuable target for criminals during the COVID-19 pandemic not because of the piece itself, but for the value of the minerals that it is made of.

One of the metals in the device, Rhodium, had an average market value of $13,200 an ounce over the past month. The quantity of these metals in catalytic converters is low so each piece sells between $50 and $250 dollars. 

Catalytic converters of hybrid cars, particularly of Toyota Prius models, are the most coveted by criminals since they have much more of these precious metals than those of cars built on combustion engines only. SUVs or cars artificially lifted are also usual prey of thieves since it is easier for them to reach under the body of these kinds of vehicles and get the device.

Law enforcement agencies, local governments and insurers reported a spike in thefts of catalytic converters since the start of the pandemic. State Farms ranks Illinois 5th among the states with the most events and its lawmakers in Washington have been helping to pass federal legislation to crackdown on this crime.

Locally, just in the period between June 21 and July 11 of this year Chicago Police Department’s  (CPD) 17th Police District, the one that surrounds NEIU, reported 24 catalytic converter thefts, providing a loose description of the alleged perpetrators: three unknown African-American men in their 20’s.

If your catalytic converter was stolen, your  car will make a loud roar when you press the gas pedal. According to the sales department of Northside Toyota, replacing a stolen piece, if you own a Toyota Prius, will cost you $2,500 with labor. 

Deterring thieves from stealing your catalytic converter is not an easy feat. It just takes cutting the tailpipe at the extremes of the device with a reciprocating saw to cut it off. Skilled criminals can dismount the piece in minutes, and some of them are armed, as a Chicago Northside’s neighbor figured out for himself. 

CPD’s 17th district guidance is to park in garages or well lit areas, avoid confronting the perpetrators if you find them, and if possible have a mechanic etch or paint your catalytic converter so it is more difficult to sell in the black market. Another option, much more expensive, is taking your car to shops that make and install metallic shields to protect catalytic converters from being snatched out of cars. Some police departments offer etching services but for now NEIUPD does not offer this service for catalytic converters.