South San Francisco, in partnership with auto body shops, is providing free catalytic converter etchings to address the rise in the thefts that can cause up to $4,000 in repairs.

At Trap’s Tire and Auto, it is etching the license plate number of the vehicle onto the catalytic converter for free to deter people from stealing them and to be able to return it to its owner if a stolen converter is recovered. The event was planned to be a week long but is now booked through Aug. 30. The city is also partnering with Royalty Auto Collision next door because it got overloaded with requests.

“You used to see it once in a while that catalytic converters got stolen, now it’s like all the time,” said Joe Trapani, president at Trap’s Tire and Auto.

It is doing five appointments every day and will be doing about 250 vehicles in the appointments it has booked, he said.

Councilmember Eddie Flores spearheaded this initiative after hearing many stories of residents having their catalytic converters stolen, as well as large delivery distributors having catalytic converters stolen from vehicle fleets.

“I started noticing trends, that it was not unique either to South San Francisco or to our region, but this is a statewide if not a national situation that’s affecting our residents,” Flores said. “And many aren’t aware of what a catalytic converter is. So I took it upon myself to do some research and really see what could be done.”

Over the last year, the South San Francisco Police Department has seen a significant increase in catalytic converter thefts, a 250% increase from 2020 to 2021. And replacing a catalytic converter is not cheap.

“It’s anywhere from $2,000 to over $4,000 for those repairs,”  Trapani said.

In addition to the etching services, Flores and the city are working on a public education campaign in English and Spanish to bring awareness about catalytic converters. It includes providing information on how the converters operate, where it’s located as well as giving tips and preventive measures such as parking under bright lights or using a catalytic converter cover.

“Unfortunately, thieves can remove a catalytic converter quickly with a wrench or a saw, often in less than two minutes. Many times, these occur in broad daylight. But what I want is for these individuals to think twice before they come around here in South San Francisco,” Flores said.

Thieves target catalytic converters because they are untraceable and contain precious metals, like platinum, palladium or rhodium, which are valuable to metal dealers, scrap yards and recyclers for up to $300. The most popular targets are Toyota Prius, Toyota Tundra, Honda Accord and large tractor trailers as well as SUVs, he said.


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