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The weird 'exhausting' theft spree going on in Wausau
The Big Story: Investigative reports from The Wausonian
It started out with a neighbor posting about how their catalytic converter was stolen from their car. I was a bit shocked at the price tag to fix the resulting issue: $1,300. I’ve since come to find out that’s a bit on the low end. Repairing them can often cost $2,000 or more.
Then I saw another one, in our same neighborhood. There’s an old joke in journalism that goes something like this: How do you count to three? One, two, trend. So it could totally be a coincidence. But it also could mean there is a larger issue.
So, like any good reporter would do, I checked it out. Turns out, I was right: There is a problem. In the past four months there have been 10 thefts of catalytic converters from cars in Wausau, according to the Wausau Police Department. Five of those ten — half — were from Priuses.
It turns out this is a nationwide problem — the thieves come in the middle of the night, take their sawzall, and cut the converter from either ends of the exhaust pipe, and leave with the part. Why? The metals inside contain valuable metals that the thieves can then sell for a hefty profit. Palladium, platinum and rhodium particularly, according to the New York Times. Prices for those metals have skyrocketed recently due to increased emission standards. That’s led to increases in thefts of the devices, which first appeared in 1975.
So why Priuses? Lt. Nathan Cihlar of the Wausau Police Department explains that some cars are easier targets than others because of the placement of the converter - if it’s accessible from the side of the car, it’s more likely to be targeted. But Pruises are also the double whammy: electric hybrid cars use the converters much less, so the metals are likely to be in better shape, Cihlar told me. They then command a higher price.
Frustratingly for police, there don’t seem to be any leads. Very little if any video evidence exists of any of the crimes, Cilhar told me. The police were keeping an eye on it because it first popped up in major cities, and made them take notice when it started becoming a problem in Eau Claire. Now it appears to be here.
It sucks for those who have already had this happen to them – like I said, it’s an expensive repair and until you get it, your car will sound ridiculously loud. But what about preventing it? Cihlar says learning where the converter is on your car can help, if you do have to park it outside. If it’s near one side, you can make sure to park your car so that side is facing the curb, or another car or a fence if parked in a driveway.
There are also anti-theft plates you can buy. They essentially shield the back half of the bottom of the car with a big metal plate, making it impossible to get at the converter without putting the car on a lift. They’re not cheap, of course, but less than a 10th of the cost of a new converter installed.
Read more of this story in this week’s City Pages, as well as the rest of the issue. Pick it up on stands and/or read it online in our Issu reader.
Wondering where the previous Wausonian posts went? Read my post about it here.