PLATTSBURGH — When Robin Hager, a major at Plattsburgh’s Salvation Army Corps, turned the key to the corps’ van’s ignition last week, she thought it might explode.

When the 12-passenger van roared a loud hum, Hager quickly turned the engine off.

“It was the loudest thing ever. It scared the tar out of me,” she said.

Hager thought the issue might be with the van’s exhaust, but she didn’t think anything would be missing.

But she discovered soon after that someone had taken the van’s catalytic converters, an emission control device for a vehicle’s exhaust.

A spike in converter thefts, according to Stateline, a Pew Charitable Trusts initiative, has been driven by a rise in value of the three metals — platinum, palladium and rhodium — used to make them. For some of the metals, just ounces of them can be valued at thousands of dollars.

According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, a not-for-profit organization that combats insurance crime, reports of stolen converters jumped by 326% from 2019 to 2020, for a total of 14,443 converters missing last year.

When Hager filed a police report afterward, she learned she wasn’t the only one that day dealing with a missing converter, a Plattsburgh City Police officer told her.

Hager, on the Salvation Army Corps’ Facebook Nov. 15, wrote a post directed at whoever took the van’s converters.

“We want you to know what you have done to us,” Hager wrote. “You have crippled a vehicle that we rely on to obtain donations others rely on. You are forcing us to use donor money to fix this vehicle. You have prevented us from providing assistance to people who truly need it.”

In the message, Hager said the cost to replace the van’s two converters totaled close to $4,000.

The post received more than 600 shares.

“It blew up. I didn’t expect it to go as nuts as it did,” Hager said. “People were outraged that somebody would do that to us. They know how much we give back to the community.”

Through a friend, Rolla Parker III, president of Parker Chevrolet in Champlain, reached out to Hager, offering to donate the parts and labor needed to repair the van.

“This happens. It’s not anything new,” Parker said he thought after hearing about the van’s missing converters. “But to do it to an organization like that always helps people, that just tells you what those people are made of.”

Parker said by donating the parts and time to repair the van, he felt he was helping the Salvation Army and the people it assists. With Thanksgiving approaching, Parker also felt it was in-line with the giving season.

Parker said the cost to replace the converters, which was wrapped up last Friday, was about the same as the estimate Hager mentioned in her post. He said the increased price in this case had to do with not having the original parts.

“We have to send the old one back,” Parker said of buying replacement converters. “In this case, there weren’t any to send back, so we had to pay a core charge, and that was $400 apiece.”

For drivers looking to prevent their converters being stolen, Parker said there is not much they can do.

“I think the only way you can definitely be safe is by parking inside a garage or parking under a streetlight,” he said.

Since she filed the police report, Hager said not much has developed in finding a suspect.

“The chances of us actually catching the individual are slim to none,” she said.

Email Fernando Alba:

Twitter: @byfernandoalba

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