Thieves stole the catalytic converters off two vans belonging to the nonprofit LifeROOTS late Tuesday.
LifeROOTS serves people with disabilities and their families. About 50 people participate in day programs or take advantage of employment opportunities at the Rio Rancho location, said President and CEO Kathleen Cates.
She said LifeROOTS keeps six vans and a couple of pickups at its Rio Rancho location on 29th Street.
When staff members moved the vehicles to inspect them Wednesday morning, they noticed two vans, both around 20 years old, made more noise than usual, she said. Then they discovered the missing catalytic converters, which are part of the emission system on the underside of the car.
“One of the vans is affectionately called ‘Big Bertha,'” Cates said in an email. “It holds 15 passengers and despite how old it is, it is our staff and participants’ favorite van, so they are disappointed.”
She said footage from security cameras on the LifeROOTS property showed two thieves entering the property and crawling under vans around 11:45 p.m. Tuesday.
“They were very fast and confident,” Cates said.
The other, newer vehicles in the parking lot were untouched. It’s harder to remove the catalytic converter on newer vehicles, she said.
LifeROOTS holds onto the old vans and carefully maintains them because they carry so many people and are comfortable for individuals in wheelchairs. She didn’t yet know how much it would cost to make repairs, which could take a week or two and required a search for parts the old van could use.
According to an article from Forbes, thefts of catalytic converters have greatly increased nationwide in recent years because of the black-market value of the precious metals — such as palladium, rhodium and platinum — they contain in order to turn harmful engine pollutants into less damaging emissions.
“It takes a skilled crook a ridiculously short time — less than five minutes — to duck under your ride, saw through parts and make off with your converter,” reporter Josh Max wrote in the article.
To try to prevent catalytic converter theft, Max wrote that people can have the part welded on instead of clamped to the car. However, the weld doesn’t usually stop thieves’ high-speed saws, but it makes legitimate work on the car take more time and thus labor costs.
According to the article, other deterrents include keeping the car in a locked garage, installing conspicuous video surveillance, etching the vehicle identification number on the catalytic converter and monitoring local news and social media to learn if there’s a rash of thefts and then take extra precautions.
Cates said this is the first time LifeROOTS has suffered property damage at its Rio Rancho location in at least 10 years. In contrast, the Albuquerque LifeROOTS location experiences damage to vehicles about once a month.
Anyone who wants to donate toward the cost of replacing the catalytic converters can visit liferootsnm.org or call Cates at 255-5501, ext. 1800, or 615-2560. She will pick up checks upon request.