The roar of an engine missing its catalytic converter is a familiar sound to many Bay Area drivers, a sound that’s only grown louder since the pandemic.
The East Bay city of Fremont has seen an immense spike in catalytic converter thefts, and those thefts are on track to keep getting worse, data shows.
Fremont Speedee Mufflers mechanic Noe Gonzales has seen the effects of increased theft firsthand.
Every day, Gonzales gets between five and 10 calls for catalytic converter replacements—up from between three calls a day in early 2020—and replaces between two and 10 converters per week.
“Mondays are the days the phones don’t stop ringing,” Gonzales said, adding that he gets as many as 15 calls on Mondays, every week.
Toyota Priuses and Honda Accords have long been the most common cars to get their catalytic converters stolen, according to Gonzales. But during the pandemic, he started seeing all makes and models enter his garage.
“Hyundais, Scions, Saturns, Ford Escapes,” Gonzales said. “It’s just unbelievable, the amount of theft.”
Due to the steadfast popularity of stealing converters from Priuses, and the lack of aftermarket converters for them, the lead time for getting a replacement can be as long as 20 weeks.
“Most people have sold the car by then, so I’m not getting a lot of those customers,” Gonzales said. “Most people can’t go without a car for four to six months.”
To deter thieves, Gonzales recommends getting a catalytic converter shield—which will cost around $300 at his shop. Other mechanics warn that thieves can easily cut through them, however, making the repair even more costly.
Catalytic converter theft increased 112% between 2020 and 2021, and by another 22% between 2021 and 2022, according to Fremont Police Department data obtained by The Standard.
If current trends continue, there will be more than 1,200 thefts in 2023, an astronomical number in a city of 227,000 people.
The worst month so far has been January 2023, with 114 thefts. April 2022 was a close second with 113.
In August 2022, Fremont police found 300 stolen catalytic converters at a local recycling business after a year-long investigation.
The police data is broken down by street and shows Fremont Boulevard, which at 11.5 miles is one of the city’s longest roads, had the most thefts since January 2020, with 144 reported. Mowry Avenue and Osgood Road had 38 and 37 thefts, respectively, since the start of 2020. Osgood Road, while having the third most thefts, is just two miles long.
Fremont police said it does not collect data by neighborhood and does not release street number locations to protect residents’ privacy. The police department did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Garrett Leahy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org