‘Cat’ burglary spree

A Commodore's catalytic converter was cut and stripped from the undercarriage.

By Cam Lucadou-Wells

Gone in 60 seconds.

That’s how long it’s taking thieves to saw off and steal away a car’s catalytic converter in a new form of crime wave.

Police are investigating a spate of about 15 brazen thefts from outside factories, workshops and even a shopping centre car park in Greater Dandenong in the past month.

Many of them have been in a tight block of streets around Dingley Avenue, Dandenong Street, Brooklyn Avenue, Station Street and Cheltenham Road on Dandenong South.

The first time a hapless victim discovers the theft is when they start their car and hear a long bang, says MK Automotive owner Rob Monea said.

He’d repaired a Commodore that was hit at Parkmore shopping centre car park in Keysborough on Monday 2 August.

At first he thought the muffler must have blown before he jacked up the vehicle and inspected the neatly sliced damage.

After he posted the incident on Facebook, similar reports flooded in – including a Dandenong business reporting three of the same thefts that night.

“I’d never seen it before. But it looks like we’re going to start seeing it a bit more now,” Mr Monea said.

Catalytic converters are reportedly sought for their precious metals platinum, palladium and rhodium, which are used to defuse a car’s toxic exhaust fumes.

On online marketplaces, each part is worth at least several hundred dollars. There are several buyers in the South East advertising for the parts on forums like Facebook Marketplace.

For the victims, there’s a hefty repair bill of between $600 and $2200.

A Commodore was targeted outside a workshop on Cheltenham Road Dandenong about 12.20am on Tuesday 27 July.

Among several others hit in the vicinity was a Honda Accord Euro outside a workshop in Dingley Avenue, Dandenong South about 3.50am on Monday 2 August.

A few weeks earlier, at least seven Toyota Hiace delivery vans were hit from two businesses in the same avenue.

“They took the sensors, wires and the cats – they ripped out the whole thing,” a business owner told Star Journal.

First Constable Gabriel Bonicelli, of Dandenong Transit Divisional Response Unit, said police were investigating the links between up to 15 such thefts.

Using either a cordless power saw or hand saw, the thieves were taking catalytic converters in less than 60 seconds, he said.

The car parts had been targets for years in the US and UK. But this was the first time 1st Const Bonicelli heard it occurring in Melbourne’s South East.

During Covid, the parts were more valuable due to a mining slowdown and hence metal price hikes, he said.

“That’s the attraction we think. They’re recycling them for a higher price.”

Any information to Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 or crimestoppersvic.com.au