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The Student Voice of UNC Asheville

The Blue Banner

The Student Voice of UNC Asheville

The Blue Banner

Thieves on campus target students’ cars

Diego Garcia


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Photo By Diego Garcia
Jonah Cloninger, vice president of Biltmore Iron and Metal Co., spoke about the legality of buying certain car parts from individual sellers.

Thieves have been costing UNC Asheville students thousands of dollars from stolen car parts according to Stephanie Weiner.

“I went to turn on my car to go to the grocery store and it sounded like a tanker truck and then I took it to a car place and they told me my catalytic converter was stolen,” said Stephanie Weiner, a junior at UNCA.

Weiner said she believes the initial incident happened at night a few weeks ago and the culprits remain at large because the police are still investigating by reviewing the security footage.

“It was roughly about  $2000 for just the part itself and it created other issues because of it. They un-bolted the catalytic converter from the down pipe and they sawed off the opposite end towards the exhaust muffler. So I had to get my exhaust pipe welded on and a new converter,” Weiner said.

According to campus police, they are now involving the Asheville police department due to the rising number of stolen catalytic converters.

“I did my own research and had a security device put on that cost a little bit extra. When I went to get it fixed, it was about $2,500 total. It’s also like a welded-on box that  covers the catalytic converter so it prevents them from getting to it. Even if they sawed off the other side, they wouldn’t be able to get the part they want. It’s like a metal plate that goes around the bottom of the car,” Weiner said.

Weiner said she suspects they are targeting cars that have the part exposed in the bottom as well as cars where they can slide under with ease.

“It seems to be a group of people involved because they have one person driving, another person who saws it off and then throws it in the trunk. They have the footage of this but they can’t tell who it is. I just think that they are trying to make money,” Weiner said.

Weiner said the money the thieves are making doesn’t come close to how much it costs the victims to have their vehicle repaired.

“It didn’t affect me personally because I got it covered by insurance for the most part. They just didn’t cover the added security device and the things that went wrong with it like the  issues with my engine,” Weiner said.

James H. Barnette, an insurance agent for Barnette and Coates Inc., said customers are covered from this type of vandalism.

“If you have comprehensive coverage, or better known as full coverage, the insurance company covers most of the cost,” Barnette said. “So I would recommend having full coverage because it includes fire, theft, vandalism, for example window breakage or if you hit an animal. So if someone vandalizes your car or if they steal a catalytic converter or whatever it’s covered under comprehensive cover.”

Barnette recommended people should get full coverage.

“In North Carolina you can pick anywhere or any body shop for example, so you don’t have to be restricted to a certain place, so you can take it anywhere to have it replaced,” he said.

Colby Monday, a service advisor at Toyota in Asheville, said it’s not just the Prius’s catalytic converter that is wanted, but all converters in general that are targeted.

“I worked at a dealership 10 years ago where they did $1.2 million from catalytic converters. They stole every single converter from new and used vehicles at a Honda dealership,” Monday said.

The way they did it involved a five man team with a van and what Monday described as a speedy and strategic plan.

“They sawed off every single catalytic converter in the parking lot and what makes them valuable is the copper and platinum in them, so what happens is people go melt them down by taking them apart in order to make money off of them,” Monday said.

Although they are targeting Priuses, all converters are valuable. He said he believes it may be sought out because there are a lot of Priuses in Asheville.

“There might be a certain exhaust component that is a little more valuable in comparison to a Chevy Equinox. There could be more platinum in this one and they’re taking it somewhere to disassemble them and selling them off elsewhere. I think I’ve had about 10 of them in here myself and I know some of them had to come back,” Monday said.

A customer that recently went to Toyota to have the part installed literally had it taken twice within 24 hours, showing the extent of the issue, according to Monday.

“The cost is $2,600 for the repair, and it’s only about $146 in labor to install the component, but the part itself does cost around $2,000, so it’s a big deal,” Monday said.

He also suspected thieves kept a few blades in their pockets for the electric saw and explained that they were able to take the part from roughly 163-168 cars in under an hour.

“Some preventive measures one can take is a security guard that is like a skid plate that is riveted onto the frame of the car. It also protects the car from low curbs and it also prevents it from being stolen again. We have now installed a couple of them and we charge about $277 to put them on but it’s worth every penny,” Monday said.

“In the state of North Carolina it is illegal to buy catalytic converters from individuals and that they only have those parts that come off of junk vehicles they receive,” said Jonah W. Cloninger, vice president of Biltmore Iron and Metal Co.

Cloninger also explained that mechanic shops or exhaust shops can get rid of old converters because they can provide the necessary information. Car companies tend to use them as cores for the new products, so the parts  are sent to the manufacturers that recycle them.

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