MADISON (WKOW)-- Thieves are targeting cars in the Madison area, but not for what's inside. They're going after catalytic converters underneath your car.
Madison police say 24 converters have been taken over the last few months in the greater Madison area. A catalytic converter is a metal piece on your vehicle that filters out bad chemicals before they go out your tail pipe. Thieves are taking them because of the precious metal inside.
Police say the thieves are cutting them from vehicles using saws, torches, and bolt cutters. Once they're removed they're sold to scrap yards. Each one can fetch $100 or more, but replacing one on your car can cost much more than that.
"It can be considerably hundreds of dollars. It may be a thousand plus," says Don Miller Auto's Service Manager A.J Tanis.
The thieves are mostly targeting SUVs and pickup trucks. Not only because they're easier to get underneath, but the catalytic converters themselves are bigger. They have more precious metal inside and can bring more money at scrap yards.
"A lot of times these are taking place in the public parking lots, outside of shopping malls or movie theaters. One happened in a church parking lot," Madison Police Spokesperson Joel DeSpain says.
Police say they're happening at all times of the day all over Madison, Monona, Fitchburg and even the UW campus. By and large the most common brand they target is Toyota.
"Of the 24 cases we've had, 15 have been the 4-runner and five have been the Tacoma pickup truck," DeSpain explains.
Madison police have established partnerships with local scrap yards to keep an eye out for any stolen parts. It's hard to monitor which ones are stolen, because scrapping catalytic converters is completely legal. Car dealerships and auto body repair shops recycle broken down converters on a regular basis. Police say it's hard to identify which ones were legitimately purchased.
Good news is if your catalytic converter is stolen you're going to know right away. Your vehicle will run significantly louder than it normally does. Bad news is the only real prevention is to park in a well lit area or a garage.