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Beyond lessons on internal combustion engines and the importance of preventative maintenance, students also have the opportunity to leave a literal mark on local vehicles’ catalytic converters. 

Catalytic converters (or cats) are devices installed on automobiles between the engine and the exhaust. Cats are designed to break down some of the chemicals found in exhaust by passing that exhaust through chemicals and metals. As the exhaust passes, it reacts with these catalyst elements and helps break it down into less harmful molecules. 

LPC students make lasting impressions on the community in many ways, but few are as tangible as the marks left by Automotive Tech students.

The criminal temptation enters with the precious metals in the cats and thieves’ attraction to easy money. While each manufacturer has a different mix of metals, the mixture of platinum, palladium and rhodium is a virtual treasure chest found underneath nearly every vehicle on the road today.

Enter Auto Tech. A partnership was born out of a desire to protect vehicle owners. This arrangement was forged between Las Positas’s Auto Tech program under the leadership of Professor Brian Hagopian and the Livermore Police Department.  

“I was contacted by [Livermore Police] officers and asked if we would be interested in the partnership,” Hagopian explains. “I took it forward and [the program] was approved.”

This partnership is as simple as it is effective. Vehicles are brought to the event, where students etch a unique number police onto each cat. This also adds a not-to-be-missed stenciled Livermore Police badge painted onto the catalytic converter. This provides an invaluable way to combat thefts in two ways. As a deterrent, a thief will see the painted badge that sets the catalytic converter apart from others they can find under cars. If that doesn’t prevent the theft, the stencil and serial number help police identify the victim and person turning in the stolen parts. These markings also give scrap dealers a reason to consider handing out cash before confirming the item isn’t stolen. 

CATALYTIC CONVERTERS, or cats, are hot commodities for thieves thanks to the precious metal. LPC students are helping the Livermore police solve the problem. (Photo by Luke Vavuris/ The Express)

Even though each cat may only contain these metals in mere milligrams, with a market price of $10,000 or more per troy ounce, even small amounts add up fast. The supply chain issues during the pandemic caused metal prices to spike, and as the price per ounce went up so did the incentive to steal catalytic converters for quick cash.

Las Positas and Livermore Police started this program in 2022. In that year, Livermore Police took 294 reports for catalytic converter thefts. In 2023, that number fell to 94 and only eight have been reported through February 2024 here in Livermore. 

Auto Tech cut the ribbon on their state-of-the-art facility on Tuesday, April 16 in a ceremony at their on-campus shop. Beyond providing students with new features like the ability to expand their electric vehicle and hybrid vehicle offerings, the new location provides more stalls to work on vehicles, additional storage for tools and vehicles and updated technology in the classroom.

Those additional stalls are to the benefit of the etching program as well. Since the first event when 126 vehicles were marked, LPC Auto Tech students now can handle the nearly 200 vehicles they see per event. While vehicles are here for etching, students also help vehicle owners by performing safety checks on their tires including checking tread depth and proper inflation.

Students will be hosting their sixth catalytic converter etching event on Tuesday, April 30 starting at 8 a.m. The line closes at 3 p.m., with students working to complete all vehicles before ending for the day. This event is open to the public with no residency restrictions. Hagopain mentioned they’ve had car owners participate from as far away as Fresno, Sacramento and numerous Silicon Valley cities.

Paul George is the copy editor and columnist for The Express. Follow him on X, formerly Twitter, @paulgeorgePIO.

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