Last November Rachel Anderson started up her car outside her home on Arlington Avenue only to find that it had turned into a Harley Davidson. “It made a noise that’s pretty darn memorable,” she says. The catalytic converter from her 1998 Toyota Tacoma truck had been stolen. “It cost me $801 to replace,” she says. “The only upside was the thieves unbolted it instead of sawing it off so only the catalytic converter needed to be replaced.”

Hilary Goldman had a similar experience a while back when her pickup truck, which was parked on Berkeley Way, disappeared. After putting in a police report the car was eventually found — but its catalytic converter was gone. Goldman filed a claim with her insurance company and it was replaced. Shortly after that incident, Goldman’s neighbor had the converter taken from his truck too, although in that case the truck was not stolen.

Catalytic converters are a target for thieves because they contain precious metals — including platinum, palladium and rhodium. In addition, their external location makes them relatively easy to steal.

The Berkeley Police Department reports that there has been pattern of theft of catalytic converters throughout the city.

“Because of the rising values of precious metals over time, catalytic converter thefts (as well as the theft of other items containing precious metals, such as brass railings, auto gates, etc.) have become a cost-effective means for suspects to turn a quick buck,” Officer Byron White reported in an email alert Tuesday. “From what I understand, a person who steals a catalytic converter can get up to $200 per device.”

Most thefts occur at nighttime, according to White, and the thieves use a reciprocating saw to remove the catalytic converters. He says that, according to, a converter can be removed in under two minutes. The most sought-after vehicles are SUVs and trucks, especially late-model Toyotas, because they sit higher off the ground — making for easier access.

While there is little one can do to prevent catalytic converter thefts, White also reports on a uptick in auto burglary “smash and grabs.” Thieves break a window, often under cover of night, and take whatever they can see inside the car. The breaking of the window is not always heard as thieves use a towel to muffle the sound or use spark plugs to break the window. (A reaction between the materials found in spark plugs and the windows causes the window to break). There’s a simple solution to this one: make sure you do not leave any valuables visible in your vehicle.

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Tracey Taylor is co-founder of Berkeleyside and co-founder and editorial director of Cityside, the nonprofit parent to Berkeleyside and The Oaklandside. Before launching Berkeleyside, Tracey wrote for...