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Catalytic converter theft on the rise in Newton

‘Dear God, don’t let them come back:’ 11 reports of stolen car parts over past month, according to police.

Nancy Sullivan knew there was a problem as soon as she started her car on a late September morning outside her West Newton apartment building.

Instead of hearing the normal hum of her car’s engine, she was startled by an unmuffled roar.

“My car sounded so loud, it was just unbelievable,” she said in an interview. “I didn’t know what happened.”

Sullivan, 76, would later learn thieves had cut away her car’s catalytic converter — one of 11 similar thefts that occurred between Sept. 24 and Oct. 25 in the city, according to Newton police.

The latest reported theft occurred the evening of Oct. 25, according to Ellen Ishkanian, a city spokeswoman.


So far this year, there have been 65 reported thefts of catalytic converters in Newton. That figure is up from the 31 thefts reported by the same point in 2021, according to Newton police.

Police are investigating those thefts, along with two others that occurred in the summer and were reported to police in October, according to Lieutenant Amanda Henrickson, a police department spokeswoman.

Half of the thefts involved Honda CRVs, including Sullivan’s vehicle.

The thefts were spread out, and included locations on Watertown, Washington, and Boylston streets, Stanton Avenue, and Beaconwood and Charlesbank roads, Henrickson said.

Henrickson said she had no further information about the converter thefts.

A catalytic converter is part of the emission and exhaust system in most modern cars and trucks, and includes precious metals such as rhodium, palladium, and platinum in their design, according to Carfax.

Those metals happen to make converters a target for theft. Rhodium has been valued as much as $20,000 per ounce, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, while palladium has been priced at $3,000 per ounce, and platinum at about $1,100.

Nationwide, catalytic converter theft claims climbed to more than 14,000 in 2020, up from about 3,400 during the previous year, the bureau reported.


“As the value of the precious metals remains high, so do the number of thefts of these devices,” the organization said on its website. “There is a clear connection between times of crisis, limited resources, and disruption of the supply chain that drives these thefts.”

In Newton, police have warned in the past about catalytic converter thefts. In mid-January, the department said there had been more than a dozen over the previous two months that largely involved Ford vans and pickup trucks, along with Toyota Priuses and Honda Elements.

The thefts usually occurred during the night, and police warned in a Facebook post at the time that people should park in well-lighted areas, and where others can see their vehicles.

Police also urged people to have their vehicle identification numbers engraved on their converters, install security devices to prevent theft, and add video surveillance to parking areas.

In an interview, Sullivan said she believes her Honda’s catalytic converter was stolen during the overnight hours between Sept. 28 and 29. She had parked it in her Chestnut Street building’s lot in the afternoon of Sept. 28, and didn’t start it again until around 10 the next morning.

She told police she was “able to coast her vehicle” to a nearby gas station in hopes that a mechanic could help, or identify the source of the noise, according to a partial copy of a report released by Newton police.


Sullivan was informed by a mechanic that her car’s catalytic converter had been cut out, she said in an interview. At the time, she wasn’t aware that the devices were targets for thieves.

Sullivan later learned a neighbor had filmed two people in her parking lot around 2 a.m. on Sept. 29, which she obtained and shared with police and posted to Facebook.

In the roughly minute-long recording, a person wearing a hoodie and another with a face covering can be seen getting into a white, four-door pickup truck that drove away from the scene.

Police, in their report, described the video “is in good quality but does not show the theft and is too far away to make any identification.”

“It’s very frustrating,” Sullivan said of the theft. “I went to the police, I talked to the detective. The ball is in their court.”

Sullivan is a lifelong Newton resident, and raised her family in the city. The retiree moved to her Chestnut Street apartment about two years ago, and hadn’t experienced any problems until the September theft.

It took four days to replace her car’s converter, which she said was paid for by her insurance. But she worries that thieves will target her vehicle again.

“This was a big deal, this was terrible. This was worse than an accident — at least you know who hit you,” Sullivan said. “Every day when I get into the car, I say, ‘Dear God, don’t let them come back.’ "


John Hilliard can be reached at