DENVER — Imagine going out to start your normally quiet car, only to find it now sounds like a souped-up motorcycle.
That's the first clue many people have that their catalytic converter has been stolen.
"I started my truck and it was loud as can be," said Tim McNamee, a long haul driver.
McNamee said he parked his Ford F-150 near C-470 and I-70, where he works, and when he came back two days later, he realized the catalytic converter had been stolen.
"I was so mad," he said. "If I would have caught the guy, I would probably have ended up in serious trouble."
Rebecca Hayes said her car was targeted last week. The Capitol Hill resident said she was planning to get some bagels from Rosenberg's in Five Points.
"I just came out of my house and started my Prius, and it roared," she said.
Hayes said she knew right away her converter had been stolen because she had received prior warning about an increase in thefts.
"The email from the mechanic said to curse out loud, so that's precisely what I did," Hayes said with a chuckle.
Catalytic converters help reduce toxic gases released by internal combustion engines.
Police said thefts of the emissions devices are skyrocketing. In Denver, 15 catalytic converters were reported stolen in 2019. That number jumped to 257 in 2020. In just the first month of 2021 there have already been 108 thefts.
The thefts are happening all over.
Adam Civilla, the manager of Parker Automotive in Parker, said catalytic converters are easy to steal.
"They're underneath the car," he said. "They're not inside. All you have to do is roll under a car, have an electric saw and it takes, 5 or 10 minutes."
Investigators said thieves looking for a quick buck will steal the converters, which contain precious metals like platinum, and sell them to scrap yards. There are multiple listings for used catalytic converters on Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace.
Civilla said it can cost anywhere from $500 dollars to $1,500 dollars to install new converters on cars.
"Diesel's are much more expensive," he said. "They can be upward of $4,000."
Cmdr. Mike Greenwell, the head of the Metropolitan Auto Theft Task Force, said someone targeted the Innovage fleet in Thornton last week.
"Fourteen catalytic converters were stolen within a matter of an hour. That's over $20,000 worth of damage," he said.
Greenwell said without more accountability for property crimes, it's only going to get worse.
"Until we get the legislative and the judicial side of our government to say enough is enough and start holding people accountable, we're not going to see this go away. We're not going to see a decline," Greenwell said.
Still, Greenwell said it's important people file a police report if their catalytic converter is stolen. He said if police see a large number of cases in one particular area, it may be easier to track down the person responsible.