This is a true story: one night in Allston, Massachusetts, my friends and I went back to our cars to spring for a drive down to Seaport, because it was relatively quiet and there was nothing else to do. My buddy Igor had a flashy, cherry red Honda S2000, which he was always wary of parking on the street. As we approach our cars, there’s something off about his Honda. As he gets closer, he lets out a string of expletives. “They stole my [censored] turn signals!” he says, pointing at his car. We look at the front fenders and sure enough, there were two gaping matchbox-sized holes in the sheet metal in front of the S2000 badge, where the amber turn signals would go. “Who the hell,” he muses, “runs around stealing turn signals?”
Evidently, really desperate thieves, who are looting more bold, brash, and oddly specific automotive filligree these days. The mega-popular S2000 may be an exception, but it’s a growing trend for thieves to steal car parts off vehicles parked outside or in unsecured places, as many do, and as my Honda-driving friend did.
That’s why thieves are crawling under cars and cutting off catalytic converters, which takes about 3 minutes with a hacksaw. It’s why thieves are hawking airbags for sale, deactivated and ripped asunder from their dashboards–which, when dealing with powerful explosives, isn’t always the smartest thing to do. Unsurprisingly, rims and navigation systems are still on the top of the list. But the precious metals in catalytic converters can fetch up to $150 in scrap yards, and stealing all of these things—and then selling them on places like Craigslist—is far easier than stealing a modern car, and far less traceable. After all, they don’t have to pass smog afterwards.
Scrap yards have been pressured to stop selling catalytic converters to metal refineries. But many of the more reputable yards record sellers’ information, such as fingerprints, signatures, license plates, and photos. ”How can I check to see where they got the material?” said David Guz, a scrap yard owner in Detroit. ”Everybody’s on record here when they come in the yard. There’s film everywhere, and we cooperate with the police if necessary.”
Detroit has been hard-hit with enterprising thieves; two people arrested last month in Dearborn had stolen over 100 catalytic converters in the area.
If nothing else, it goes to show that if a thief really, truly wants your stuff, he will stop at almost nothing to get it. So what can you do? Park in well-lit and populated areas, off the street if you can, and if you see suspicious-looking people acting suspiciously, call the police—after all, it’s not easy lifting a car and reaching underneath to cut it, and airbags aren’t the most removable of car parts.
Turn signals, on the other hand, apparently are.