MONROE COUNTY, Tenn. — It can happen in just seconds, and the aftermath can cost you a pretty penny.
"Someone that knows what they're doing, within seconds could have it taken off the vehicle," said Monroe County Sheriff Tommy Jones.
The county has struggled with catalytic converter thefts in recent years. However, Jones said authorities have identified patterns and ways to get that trend under control.
"They were being stolen from church parking lots, boat docks and different areas," Jones said.
The thefts commonly occurred in poorly-lit areas. Additionally, they occurred in parking lots where the vehicle owners were unlikely to come back for an extended period of time.
A West Knox County business, Signs-N-Such, warned neighbors to be vigilant after someone stole catalytic converters off of its company vehicles.
"They are expensive to replace. So, unfortunately we have to make the change, and after the year that we had last year that was super painful it's hard to get hit again," administrative assistant Jordan Butchison said.
Employees said they're taking new precautions, such as adding cameras outdoors.
Catalytic converters have been the target of theft for the past several years. They are built with valuable metals that can be sold for scrap or other uses.
For the vehicle owner, the stolen car part can be financially devastating.
"It can get up to $1,500 or even $2,000," said Scott Erland with the Knoxville Police Department.
This year, the crime spree increased in Knoxville. By July 2020, there were only seven reported catalytic converters stolen. This year -- there are already 43 reports.
Erland explained that catalytic converter theft is an example of a "crime of opportunity."
The thefts can happen in plain view in some cases, but car owners can decrease their chances of property theft by parking their car in a safe area -- including parking in a well-lit area or nearby a busy road.
"If you have an enclosed, secure garage, you should always park your car in there," Erland recommended.
"I always recommend a home security or camera system," Jones said.