By Audra Streetman

WELD COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4) – The Weld County Sheriff’s office is warning drivers about a recent uptick in catalytic converter thefts. Thieves steal the devices because they contain precious metals such as platinum, palladium, or rhodium, which help convert engine exhaust into a less harmful gas.

Catalytic converters look like a muffler and are attached to a vehicle’s emissions system. The sheriff’s office is currently investigating more than a dozen catalytic converters stolen in three separate incidents.

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“Thieves appear to be targeting pickups, SUVs and cargo vans, likely because it’s easier to fit under the vehicle to remove the device,” the sheriff’s office said in a news release. “Thieves also are targeting car dealerships, rental car businesses and moving companies where they can rip off multiple devices in one trip.”

Deputies say hybrid vehicles are a likely target because their catalytic converters feature a higher concentration of precious metals than traditional gasoline vehicles. Catalytic converters are also considered to be more valuable in diesel pickups and vehicles manufactured in Japan, according to the sheriff’s office.

The sheriff’s office reached out to local dealerships, which provided the following cost estimates to replace catalytic converters:

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  • $3,700-$5,500: Honda Element manufactured in Japan
  • $2,500: All other Honda models manufactured in Japan
  • $2,500-$3,000: Vehicles with diesel exhaust fluid (DEF) systems
  • $1,500-$1,800: Dodge, Ford and Chevrolet vehicles

Vehicles manufactured in Japan will have a VIN that begins with a J. Owners can take steps to protect their vehicles by engraving a unique number, such as the VIN or license plate number, directly into the catalytic converter.

(credit: Weld County Sheriff’s Office)

“Engravers can be purchased at most local hardware stores for about $20. Caution must be used to not damage the catalytic converter while etching,” stated the sheriff’s office. “Vehicle owners can also purchase a brightly-colored, high-temperature automotive exhaust spray paint – rated between 1,300 and 2,000 degrees – and apply a generous amount to your catalytic converter to make it stand out and deter thieves. The paint will also signal to law enforcement and metal recyclers that the catalytic converter in someone’s possession is likely stolen.”

Other steps drivers can take to protect their vehicles include parking in a secured area, installing a bright motion censor light or catalytic converter anti-theft device, locking vehicles and setting the alarm.

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Anyone with information about catalytic converter thefts is asked to call the Weld County Sheriff’s Office at (970) 356-4015 or Northern Colorado Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477). Tips can also be submitted through the Crime Stoppers website at crimeshurt.com.

Audra Streetman