Catalytic converter thefts return after period of inactivity

Nicole McIsaac, News Editor

Two Quinnipiac University students reported their vehicle’s catalytic converters stolen last week, following a slew of similar thefts last semester

Chief of Public Safety Tony Reyes said there are no current suspects, and it is unknown if the two incidents are connected. He said the university is collaborating with the Hamden Police Department to obtain any information, and Public Safety will continue to have officers patrolling around campus parking lots to prevent future incidents. 

Connor Lawless

“It’s information sharing, it’s making the connection and then it’s vigilance,” Reyes said. “And we’ll keep doing that.”

A catalytic converter is a component of a vehicle’s exhaust system that is located between the engine and the muffler. These parts are targeted by thieves because they are made out of highly valuable metals, such as platinum, palladium or rhodium. 

Some indicators that a catalytic converter has been removed include a roaring sound that increasingly gets louder when pushing on the gas, a sputtering sound when changing speed and the vehicle not driving smoothly, according to Allstate. Thieves typically remove the parts off of vehicles with a battery-operated cutting machine or saw, Reyes said. 

Despite some distractions individuals might be enduring while driving, Reyes said the noise of a missing catalytic converter is very distinguishable when behind the wheel.

“When the catalytic converter gets taken out, your vehicle is going to make a lot more noise when you’re driving,” Reyes said. “If you have the radio blasting or if you’re on the phone, you might not pick up on it. But it’s actually pretty distinct.”

Gabriella Shulenski, a sophomore chemistry major, said she parked her 2009 Honda CRV in the Eastview parking lot on the York Hill campus on Jan. 23. Upon returning to her car the next day, Shulenski said she immediately noticed a noise coming from the vehicle when attempting to start the car. 

“It was like a popping sound,” Shulenski said. “It was a really loud noise that my car has never made.”

From there, Shulenski called the local tow truck company, Wheelers Auto Service Inc.When the mechanic arrived, Shulenski said she was immediately informed that half of her catalytic converter had been removed. She filed an official report with the university and Hamden PD on Jan. 25. 

Reyes told The Chronicle that Shulenski’s file noted the catalytic converter was cut into as an attempt to steal the vehicle’s parts, but the full converter was not taken. 

However, as a result of the incident, Shulenski said she feels frightened to leave her car in the university’s parking lots. 

“I’m just kind of worried for the whole Quinnipiac community,” Shulenski said. “… If they’re not even safe in Public Safety’s hands, then who do they have to trust?” 

Two days after Shulenski’s reported incident, another student said her catalytic converter was stolen after being parked at North Lot on the Mount Carmel campus on Jan. 27. 

Shannon Flaherty, a senior media studies major, said she noticed her vehicle running differently and assumed it was sparked by cold weather or other issues in her car. She said she continued with her tasks and parked her vehicle overnight at her off-campus house. 

Many thieves use a battery-powered cutting machine or saw to extract a catalytic converter from a vehicle within seconds. (Photo contributed by Shannon Flaherty)

Upon starting her car the next morning, Flaherty said she noticed the same noise and went to a nearby Walmart to put oil in her car. After another failed attempt to get rid of the sound, Flaherty said she parked her car overnight at the York Hill campus over the weekend and stayed with a friend to avoid shoveling her car out of the snowstorm. 

Flaherty told The Chronicle that her vehicle continued to make noise and eventually had a friend familiar with cars inspect the sound on Monday. She said she finally discovered that her catalytic converter was missing, immediately notified the university and filed a report with Hamden PD on Jan. 31. 

“I was like ‘No, that was just a silly email we were getting last semester, that doesn’t actually happen to people,’” Flaherty said. “Sure enough, there was like a clean cut of something ripped, like literally sawed off of the bottom of my car.”

As a result of not reporting the sound immediately, it is unknown where the incident occured. However, Flaherty said she believes the theft had to occur when her car was parked in the North Lot last week.

Despite being relieved to know what the issue was, Flaherty said the incident has left her feeling uneasy. 

“It shakes you up a lot,” Flaherty said. “Especially the fact that I know that someone was underneath my car with a saw.” 

The most recent incident prior to the spring semester was on Oct. 5-6 last year, and the perpetrator was never identified. Reyes told The Chronicle that he is confident the university will locate and prosecute those responsible. 

“We haven’t had one in a little while, which is good,” Reyes said. “These tend to happen in waves.” 

Reyes urges students to report any suspicious activity by calling Public Safety at  (203)-582-6200, or to dial 911 if there is an immediate emergency. 

“If you’re driving away and you’re not sure, call us,” Reyes said. “And we can go real quickly and check. That way, we can take the report right away and also document it because times are of the essence sometimes and it’s good to find out as soon as possible.”