PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. - As the key is turned in the ignition, there is a mighty growl, and it doesn't take a mechanic to realize something's not right with the Toyota Sequoia at Treasure Coast Auto Repair in Port St. Lucie.
Owner Frank Mazzoni points to the problem once the car is up on a lift. There is no catalytic converter. It was sawed off by a thief.
"It happened more than likely Sunday, and I believe it happened in broad daylight," says Mazzoni.
Mazzoni said it's the first time this has ever happened at his shop. "I had Mercedes out front, a BMW out front, they still have converters... this doesn't," he said.
In the past week, there have been four incidents involving six vehicles in Port St. Lucie where the catalytic converters were taken.
"What it does is it processes exhaust fumes through the system and out into the atmosphere," said J.B. Young, Operations Manager for the city of Port St. Lucie.
So what's the catalyst behind the thefts? It's a quick crime, and the thieves want to sell what's inside. There are trace amounts of palladium, rhodium, and platinum that sell for anywhere from 670 to more than 15-hundred dollars an ounce.
Police say the thieves have their eyes on certain vehicle models. "They're targeting Toyota 4Runners, Honda CRVs because they sit high off the road, and there is easy accesibility to get underneath there with any type of power saw," said Port St. Lucie police spokesman Tom Nichols.
The thefts aren't isolated to Port St. Lucie. Last week, the entire 5 bus fleet for the Martin County Council Of Aging was hit. The buses take dozens to the Kane Center in Stuart daily.
"The real victims are the seniors and their families who need these services to stay in good health," said Kane Center CEO Barbara Kauffman.
Fortunately, community donations are helping to defray the nearly $6,000 cost to repair them.
While there are aftermarket devices you can buy to protect your catalytic converter, police say the best thing to do is use common sense, park in a well lit area especially at night, and park in a garage if you can.
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