In the spring, 18 catalytic converters were removed from Toyota Tundra and Tacoma trucks during a two-month period at a Toyota storage lot in Torrance, newspaper reports said. There have been similar reports in Long Beach, Valencia and El Segundo. Nationally, thefts have been reported in Michigan, Boston, Ohio, and in Canada, where police in Toronto have estimated $1 million worth of converters were stolen from an auto parts store in March. The converter for Avila’s 1995 Toyota 4-Runner was stolen from in front of her home in the 8100 block of Bright Avenue sometime between 8:30 p.m. Wednesday and 7:50 a.m. Thursday when she tried to take her son, Daniel, 13, to school. When she started her vehicle, “It sounded like a dragster,” she said. “It was an ugly sound.” WHITTIER – Andrea Avila found herself Thursday morning a victim of a crime that has been growing throughout North America. Thieves, according to local law enforcement and those in the auto repair industry, are stripping vehicles of their catalytic converters. “They are being targeted for their precious metals,” said Whittier police spokeswoman Officer Diana Salazar. The platinum, palladium and rhodium used in the converter can be sold for thousands of dollars an ounce, police officials said. As a driver from Hadley Tow prepared to take her dark green truck to her mechanic, Avila became emotional. “I was keeping it together all morning, but when I saw him putting up my baby, tears came out,” she said. The catalytic converter, explained tow driver Tony Enriquez, is part of the exhaust system and cleans the emissions that come from your car. It is a chemical filter designed to react with exhaust fumes to reduce air pollution. “I have seen this happen a lot,” he said. Enriquez, 42, said people could be stealing them because, without a good one, a car can’t pass a smog check. And a car won’t run without it, he added. Avila, 32, said after turning off her truck, she inspected the area and found some metal rings and nuts and bolts under the 4-Runner. When she called the police, the dispatcher told her exactly what had been stolen. “I didn’t know what was missing, but he knew,” Avila said. Salazar said the department is aware of several similar incidents and most have occurred in the last year. “It’s a new issue that we’ve come across,” she said. The department does not have any statistics on this type of crime. Salazar said investigators have surmised that Toyotas may be targeted because converters on the trucks are easily accessible, exposed underneath the frame, as opposed to being underneath the hood. Auto Zone part manager Richard Cabrera said a customer came in last week saying her converter was stolen, but sales of the item has not substantially risen. “I’ve sold one in the past month,” he said. Prices vary depending on the make and year of the vehicle, he added, and average from $80 to $130. Avila, a single parent on a fixed income who works for the County of Norwalk, said she will have to juggle her finances to pay the bill. “I try to keep up maintenance on my truck with every paycheck,” she said. “And now something like this happens. “I want the word to get out so no one else goes through what I have today.” Avila is having the converter welded instead of bolted to the truck to prevent another theft from happening. [email protected] (562) 698-0955, Ext. 3028 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!