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How to foil thieves targeting catalytic converters

Dear Car Fix:I heard the other day that people were getting their catalytic converters stolen. Why would someone steal that from my car, and if they are stealing them, what can anyone really do? It seemed like an odd thing – I hope you know what I mean?

— T.R., Kendall

Dear T.R.: I have heard about catalytic converter theft. Catalytic converters are valuable as scrap. There are three types of metals that help the catalytic converter remove toxins from the vehicles' emissions: platinum, palladium and rhodium. The prices of these already valuable metals have shot up hundreds of dollars an ounce in recent years. It's the tiny amounts of these metals on the screens inside the catalytic converter that make them so valuable.

Catalytic converters sell for about $40-$200 each. They cost around $1,000 to replace.

Thieves are known to strike in broad daylight, in busy areas. SUVs and other vehicles with high clearance are especially vulnerable.

Thieves steal catalytic converters with either a wrench or a reciprocating saw. In some cases we've seen thieves using mechanics dollies to slide under vehicles more easily. It takes about 3 minutes, to either unbolt a catalytic converter or use the reciprocating saw to cut it out. Good thieves are even faster.

These thieves look for easy steals – SUVs are favorite targets, Toyota SUVs are especially easy because their catalytic converters are only bolted on. They attack car dealership lots, the parking lots at auto repair shops and poorly attended parking lots.

Here are seven ways to deter catalytic converter theft:

1. Defensive parking: The goal is obstructing access underneath the vehicle.

2. Park in well-lighted areas. Lighting is vital to reducing catalytic converter theft. Though the opportunity thieves are getting bold enough to strike in busy areas in broad daylight. Good lighting makes your vehicles visible to the street and others.

3. Spread community awareness. If you hear about catalytic converter theft from neighbors or others or even suffer the theft of a catalytic converter from your vehicle, then consider getting the word out in some way to others in your area. Tell your friends and associates in the area; knock on your neighbors' doors and post fliers.

4. Fencing your vehicle. If you park in a fenced-in area, it will deter the occasional/opportunistic catalytic thieves.

5. Welded bolts: If your catalytic converters are the "bolt on" type, you can have the bolts welded shut. This is only a deterrent to the lowest grade of catalytic converter thief though – the one who works only with a wrench. Still, in some cases it might be enough deterrent to prevent a theft.

6. Catalytic converter protective sleeves: Protective coverings for your catalytic converter, such as the device known as the "Catclamp," can deter thieves as well. The Catclamp and competitor Catcuff makes it much more difficult for the reciprocal saw wielding thief to steal your converter. They are somewhat pricey though, and if you're operating a fleet of vehicles or an auto dealership it won't be cost effective. They are great for owners of one or two cars.

7. ID etching: Etching your converter with a serial number will help the police to track your converter after it's stolen.

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Dear Car Fix:My wife and I vacation in Florida for about three weeks at a time. My vehicle, a 2008 Honda CRV, is outside during this period at our home in Buffalo. When we return, the first time I drive my car it makes a horrible grating sound from the brake area that goes away. Is there anything I can do to alleviate this situation? I do not have access to a garage.

— J.M., Williamsville

Dear J.M.: When a car sits outside, moisture develops on these parts because they are exposed to rain, moisture, heating and cooling and can easily build up surface rust on the braking surface and components on a car's brake rotors. The good news is that rust on the brake rotors is not a big problem.

There's little you can do to completely stop rust from forming. If you see excessive rust buildup, which should only happen if you haven't driven the car in years, take it to a nearby open lot. Slam on the brakes a couple of times, making sure you're driving slow enough to do it safely, to remove the rust.

If your vehicle has higher mileage, a spongy pedal or other brake issues, take it immediately to an ASE-Certified technician and have your brakes inspected.