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Surge in car thefts increase worry among Bellingham residents

Catalytic converters and entire vehicles have been stolen frequently

Parked cars sit on High St in Bellingham, Wash. on April 18. Many Western Washington University students live on High St and park their vehicles nearby. // Photo by Simone Higashi

Bellingham residents have experienced a surge in car and auto-related thefts since the beginning of this year.

By March 27, 193 vehicles had been reported stolen since the start of 2022, according to the Bellingham Police Department’s daily activity logs

“During the same 86 days time frame in 2021, there were only 45,” the log reads. By March 28 of 2022, this number increased to 195 reported stolen vehicles.

The Bellingham Police Department did not respond to The Front’s request to comment.

Fourth-year Western Washington University student Laura Raufi has experience with stolen vehicles. Her 1996 Honda Accord was stolen overnight in the winter of 2021, only six months after she got it.

“I was like, ‘No. There’s no way my fears are actually true,’ because usually I just get really overly anxious about that stuff,” Raufi said. “I walked up and down my street like ten times and I was like, ‘Nope, my car is gone.’” Her car had been parked on High Street, a place densely populated with Western students and where many cars have been reported stolen.

Raufi called the police and filed a police report soon after realizing it was stolen. Her car was found later that night in the parking lot of the Pizza Hut on Samish Way. 

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Wheels of a parked car in Bellingham Wash. on April 18. Using a steering wheel lock can decrease the chance of auto theft. // Photo by Simone Higashi

Along with car thefts, certain parts of cars are commonly stolen as well and can be expensive to replace. 

“When I turned it on, it smelled like a John Deere lawnmower,” said Zoe Johnson, a recent Western graduate. Her catalytic converter had been stolen from under her car the night before.

“Catalytic converters pretty much scrubs your exhaust gasses, so all your exhaust gasses have to go through this type of honeycomb,” Seth Peterson, a machinist at Specialty Metal Works in Blaine, said. Peterson also used to work for Jiffy Lube and fixes cars recreationally. “Where the honeycomb is there's a bunch of precious metals that help react with the exhaust that helps clean it as it comes through.”

Replacing a car is expensive, but buying a new catalytic converter also costs a lot of money because of the expensive metals that they contain, Peterson said. Repairing a catalytic converter can cost anywhere from $900 to about $2,500.

“I called seven different car places and honestly got the same feedback from all of them: that this has been really common,” Johnson said. “That response that I got was, ‘Oh, another Toyota Prius, there's been so many this month.’”

Johnson ultimately decided that filing an insurance claim would be the cheapest route to fixing her car.

There are many different methods perpetrators of auto theft take including; looking for easy opportunities, actively searching, force, manipulation and master keys, According to a study on car theft in the British Journal of Criminology.

To prevent catalytic converter theft, protective shields are available. “It's expensive to install one of those. But if it prevents somebody from doing this type of thing, it’s definitely worth it,” Johnson said.

Car owners can protect their vehicles by installing preventive devices such as steering wheel locks. The most common lock is The Club, designed to halt the steering wheel from moving.

“The primary method of preventing auto thefts in North America and Great Britain has been the reduction of opportunities for theft through target hardening,” the British Journal of Criminology’s study said.

Target hardening refers to the preventative measures taken by car companies and car owners to make vehicles less susceptible to theft. Unfortunately, target hardening from the driver’s end is hard to accomplish, especially with older cars.


Simone Higashi

Simone Higashi (she/her) is a third-year News Editorial student and senior reporter for The Front. Simone likes to knit and read in her free time. You can reach her at simonehigashi.thefront@gmail.com


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