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Mary Duan here. Before I talked to Maia Carroll, the Monterey County media spokesperson and a longtime personal friend (and you know she’s a friend when she drops off jars of homemade jam at your house, along with the extra tomato plants she doesn’t have room for at her place) about a situation she recently had, I was only vaguely aware that catalytic converters were a thing. I didn’t know if my car (electric but with a gas-powered range extender) had one. I couldn’t tell you what it looked like or what it did. 

But after talking to Carroll about the early morning her husband woke up to the discordant sound of a chainsaw, and looked outside just in time to see a car driving away (a car that had the catalytic converter the driver and passenger had just stolen from Carroll’s car inside), I went down the catalytic converter rabbit hole. Fast. I got a rapid education in how they work, why they work, what makes them so valuable and why they’re so easy to rip off.

When they are ripped off, it’s chaotic and expensive for the vehicle owner. The same precious metals that make them valuable to thieves make them expensive to replace. And when the thief cuts one out, they often cut through other sensors, making the repair even more expensive.

I had fun reporting and writing this piece. I hope you have fun reading it—and beyond that, I hope you don’t get your catalytic converter ripped off. Check out the box on the second to last page of the story, where you’ll find some tips that could help you from becoming a victim of this most bizarre kind of crime.

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