Guest Column:

Come on, what’s next? We have steering wheel “clubs” and annoying car alarms that blare out for the wrong reasons; do we now have to install little alarms onto every single component on our cars to prevent theft? I hope it doesn’t come down to that.

A catalytic converter was stolen Jan. 5 from my daughter’s boyfriend’s 1990 Toyota 4Runner right in front of our house at the 5100 block on Palm Drive in La Cañada. OK, it was raining on that Saturday night and our street is dark, but it seemed it was done right under our very noses.

We discovered the part was missing the next morning when the vehicle was started and sounded like a Daytona race car. I asked if it normally sounded that loud, and my daughter’s boyfriend, Shant, screamed over the now very loud engine noise, “No way, something’s changed.” He killed the engine and dangled from his passenger seat beneath his vehicle like a rag doll looking for something under his bed. I bent down and cocked my head to have a look also, and we both saw that a pipe was obviously missing, and a gap was where a catalytic converter once was firmly bolted.

The only trace of the converter at the scene were four bolts scattered on the rain-reflected asphalt like threaded soldiers who gave it their all but couldn’t hold up their line of defense — and the pliers that were used to kill them.

Our family watchdog, Sadie, was off duty that night with the heavy rains, courtesy of a note from the head of the household, and was snug in her bed inside the house. Otherwise, she and the two dogs across the street would have certainly barked vehemently at all passersby and anyone suspiciously lurking around any vehicle.

What the heck is a catalytic converter and what makes it so valuable to thieves? We all know that cars are known to contribute to cities’ smog problems, and to help solve those problems, cities, states and the federal government created clean-air laws that restricted the amount of pollution that cars can produce. Over the years, automakers have made many refinements to car engines and fuel systems to keep up with these laws. One of these changes came about in 1975 with an interesting device called a catalytic converter, which is an elongated metal, horizontal cylinder that intersects an exhaust pipe.

The function of the catalytic converter is to convert harmful pollutants into less harmful emissions before they ever leave a car’s exhaust system. And, we later learned that the materials (including platinum) are very expensive. The location of a catalytic converter in most cars is located under the vehicle on the driver’s side.

We called the Crescenta Valley Sheriff’s Station and they quickly responded with two officers, Deputies Acebedo and Castaneda, to file a report. I later chatted with Det. Sgt. Ray Harley from the station, and he said, “Unfortunately, we’re seeing more and more of these types of thefts in our CV-LCF area. I recommend what you’d expect: common sense “Neighborhood Watch” programs, lighted areas in front of your homes where vehicles may be parked, and park your vehicles in garages if you have them.

At the scene Dep. Castaneda advised, “The high-priced part commands a demand out there on the streets. Also, the part is easily accessible from most cars, especially on light trucks, which are higher off the ground.”

We got Shant’s vehicle fixed up for $200 including labor, but that used a universal converter. An original would have cost him $600 alone, not including labor. Late model vehicles go higher, into the high hundreds, and can even go over a thousand dollars. Now that’s bling!

As it turns out, there hasn’t been a demand for small alarms for auto components. However, there are devices that clamp onto catalytic converters that can deter theft.

Go figure.


KEN KHTEIAN is semi-retired and has been a La Cañada resident for 13 years. He has traveled the world as the director of airline sales for a company that manufactures commercial airline equipment. He is an avid jogger in the hills and mountains of LCF and enjoys reading novels (a habit picked up from long airplane flights taken during his career).

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