AUSTIN (KXAN) — You park your car at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, walk across the pedestrian sidewalk and hop onto your flight.
But if you’re considering doing that for the holidays, you may want to take some extra precautions.
Austin 311 said so far this year, it had 42 service requests related to car thefts compared to seven in all of last year. That includes stolen catalytic converters from cars, a problem KXAN has been following for months.
The airport had three such reports in a 24-hour period in May.
Since then, airport officials told KXAN they’ve asked the Austin Police Department to step up patrols in the area. But it happened again.
“I thought I was in the wrong truck,” said C.J. Finley, who lives in the Austin area, when he fired up his truck on Sunday.
Finley parked his car in the airport’s blue garage on Thursday before traveling to the East Coast. When he restarted his car, it sounded different.
“It sounds like a roaring, almost like a boat,” he explained. “I was like, ‘no, this is my truck. It has everything in it. What the heck’s going on?'”
He quickly realized his catalytic converter was taken.
Finley said his insurance is covering most of the replacement cost, but it’s a $1,000 deductible and a two-to-six month wait for the part to come in.
“When you’re parking at the airport, and you’re paying $17 to $30 a day, you’re expecting some level of service,” Finley said.
That’s also why Robert Clouse said he parks at the blue garage, and not in the airport’s economy lot.
“I like to make sure that when I park at the airport and leave my car for an extended period of time that I have the ability to know at least it’s behind a fence or gate, or some kind of controlled checkpoint, so people aren’t just driving up and taking things,” he said.
Clouse said he also knows catalytic converter thefts are a problem right now.
“Honestly, every time I park my car in Austin, I expect to come back to no catalytic converter,” he said.
Airport officials said they’re staffed 24/7, and all parking lots and garages have security cameras that are monitored by airport staff.
“Austin-Bergstrom International Airport is staffed 24/7, which includes members from Austin Police Department, airport security and parking operations. We ask that passengers that see anything suspicious as it relates to catalytic converter theft alert us by calling 512-530-2242 or call APD. All parking lots and garages are equipped with CCTV security cameras and are monitored by airport staff.”Sam Haynes, Austin-Bergstrom International Airport spokesperson
City of Austin spokesperson Matilda Sanchez-Vichique said none of the 311 requests from last year mentioned “catalytic converter” in the comments section, while it had seven reports mention it this year.
She explained all the 311 requests go to APD for a formal report, which would have more details on what was stolen. APD has not fulfilled KXAN’s request, yet, for those specific numbers.
“I do… think that it’s safer to park in the garages than on the street,” Clouse said.
Still, Finley thinks the airport can do more like put up warning signs.
“If I saw a sign that like, ‘hey, we’ve had break ins of this,’ I would have thought, and then I would have probably went and got a cover for my truck, or… just wouldn’t park there in the first place,” he said.
He hopes by sharing his story, he can at least alert other drivers.
“If you’re going to park at the airport, beware because this could happen,” Finley said. “Maybe somebody will see this, and they’ll avoid it and tell their friends and whoever and they’ll avoid it.”
How to prevent a catalytic converter theft
According to Allstate insurance, it’s not what catalytic converters do, but what they contain (platinum or rhodium) that makes them appealing to thieves.
Here’s Allstate’s advice to protect your car:
- Know if your car is more vulnerable: “Hybrids, SUVs and trucks have valuable or easily removable catalytic converters,” Allstate wrote. The company said you can scratch in your license plate number or VIN on your part as a flag to a scrap dealer that it was stolen.
- Park in well-lit areas close to public entrances, regularly move your car’s spot or use a closed garage.
- Install an anti-theft device.
- Install motion-sensitive lights and cameras in your parking area.
- Paint your catalytic converter to deter buyers – some local police departments even offer free programs for painting.