It seems ironic that here in God's green country (or Goddess's, if you swing that way), the heist of choice for auto-parts thieves is the catalytic converter. The Columbian of Vancouver, Wash., reports on the trend, noting that there's motivation to rip off these pricey emission-limiting parts then sell them to smelters which extract the valuable metals. If you run a smelter, this means that you can probably buy a hot catalytic converter easier than a box of Sudafed at the pharmacy.[Writer's note: This last bit is an update. Columbian reporter Justin Carinci nicely took the time to explain to me that the gizmos don't simply get sold as secondhand auto parts.]
Technically, I suppose, this isn't really a blow to air quality. If someone grabs the catalytic converter out of your Toyota truck, you have to buy a new one. So in a mean-spirited, illegal sort of way, it's a boost to the economy. (Even more so when thieves get caught, which adds bail money and fines to local coffers.)
Stats aren't collected uniformly on this sort of crime; many people don't bother telling the police at all, since they don't plan to report it to their insurance companies. But news accounts here and elsewhere, as well as confirmations from Portland-area auto dealers, identify this as a real issue. (It can cost up to three grand to buy and replace a catalytic converter.)
There used to be a joke in Boston years ago, when car tape decks were the hot new thing, claiming there was really only one auto sound-system in the whole city: It just got stolen and re-stolen. Now iPods have made snatching a car stereo a waste of time, and thieves have had to branch out. So maybe we can blame Apple and Steve Jobs for this whole mess.