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Security Announcement - Suspicious Activity
September 21, 2022

On Tuesday, September 20, at approximately 2 pm., a Caltech community member was returning to her vehicle parked in the South Wilson Parking Structure where she observed two men with a toolbox looking underneath her vehicle. The reporting person stated that the two men had parked next to her vehicle and got in their vehicle and left as she was approaching. The vehicle did not appear to be damaged or tampered with.

Security responded to the location and searched the area. A Los Angeles County Sheriff's unit was already in the area and assisted in the search. No vehicles or subjects matching the description given were located.

Protect Your Vehicle Against Catalytic Converter Theft

Thefts of catalytic converters are on the rise across the state, and the Pasadena Police Department has reported a similar increase in the thefts of catalytic converters around Caltech. To help members of the Caltech community avoid becoming victims, Campus Security has several suggested practices to recommend.

Thieves target catalytic converters, which help reduce harmful exhaust emissions, because they contain precious metals, like platinum, palladium, or rhodium, which are valuable to metal dealers. Many catalytic converters can be sold to scrap yards for up $200.

Thieves typically use a saw or wrench to remove a catalytic converter, depending on whether it is bolted or welded in. Removal can take as little as one minute.

What Cars Are Thieves Looking For?

Fuel-powered vehicles manufactured after 1974 have catalytic converters, however, thieves often target taller vehicles (such as pickup trucks or SUVs) because they can easily fit under the vehicle to access the catalytic converter. Some hybrid vehicles are also commonly targeted by thieves because their catalytic converters contain greater amounts precious metals than other vehicles and can be sold for as much as $1,000. The most susceptible hybrid models are the Toyota Prius and Lexus RX of all generations and ages.

The location of your car may also be a factor. Leaving your car parked in one spot, such as a shopping mall, a mass commuter parking lot, or the campus parking structures, for a long period of time can give thieves more time to access your vehicle and steal the catalytic converter.

How Do I Know if My Catalytic Converter Was Stolen?

You may not be able to tell your catalytic converter was stolen by looking at your car, but you will know as soon as you start the engine. When the catalytic converter has been removed, your vehicle will make a loud roaring sound that will get louder as you push the gas pedal. Your car might also make a sputtering sound as you change speed, or you'll notice it's not driving smoothly.

What Can I Do to Protect My Car's Catalytic Converter?

Consider these tips to help protect your car from catalytic converter theft:

  • When possible, park in well-lit areas and close to building entrances.
  • If you have a garage at your house, park your car inside and keep the garage door shut.
  • Have the catalytic converter welded to your car's frame, which may make it harder to steal.
  • Consider having your vehicle identification number (VIN) engraved on the catalytic converter — this may help alert a scrap dealer that it was stolen and make it easier to identify the owner.
  • Calibrate your car's alarm to go off when it detects vibration.

Understanding when, where, and why your car might be a target for catalytic converter theft is the first key to preventing it. By following these protective measures, you may help deter thieves from targeting your car.

If you encounter or observe a suspicious person or anyone who makes you uncomfortable. Go to a safe location and call Campus Security immediately.

Call x5000 on campus (626) 395-5000 from your cell phone or if you are off campus) or call 911.

Thank you for your vigilance,

Caltech Campus Security