AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) — There is a rise in catalytic converter thefts nationally and locally. It’s a crime not new to the CSRA but returning, and a Columbia County church is among the latest to be hit.

We reported about this same issue in 2020.

All you need to do is crank your car up to know that your catalytic converter has been stolen.

“Be a real loud exhaust sound coming out,” said Darren Smith, Smith Tire Co. & Smitty’s Auto Service Owner.

Smith owns an auto shop on Gordon Highway and he said he’s seen a rise in cars needing catalytic converters after a theft.

“They tend to prey more on vehicles that are higher off the ground because they’re easier to get to. With the advent of the battery powered saws that they have in today’s world makes it really easy for them to just carry that with them and go right up and get under it, cut that converter off and be gone in five or ten minutes or less,” Smith said.

The latest victim is Abilene Baptist Church. An incident bulletin from Columbia County Sheriff’s Office details the larceny reported last week. Two buses owned by the church had their catalytic converters stolen sometime after they were last used September 14th.

We spoke with Columbia County Sheriff’s Office’s Sgt. Jerry Studer about what the punishment is for the crime. He said, “The charge is a felony. It’s going to be theft by taking. You can be charged with a $5,000 fine or up to five years in prison.”

Smith said his shop took a hit as well. And the job was caught on camera.

“With it up in the air on the lift, a couple of guys came at 1 o’clock in the morning and had them on camera cutting the catalytic converter off one of the cars,” Smith said.

He allowed our cameras underneath another car at the shop to point out how easily assessible the part is for criminals. He said it’s part of the emission system and without it, a car’s sensors will not operate properly. And he said while the thief may not get much in return for the precious metal, it’s a hefty price tag for the car owner to replace it.

He added, “$6-700 dollars up to $12-1500 dollars.”

But before a theft breaks your pockets, there are ways you can deter people from stealing a catalytic converter from your vehicle.

“They need to become more of a hard target,” Sgt. Studer explained. “Keep their vehicle in a well lit area. If you have a garage, keep it inside the garage. For businesses, keep them behind the locked fence.”

Allstate reports that you can insure your vehicle against catalytic converter thefts. You can also install an anti-theft device.