While traveling in Oregon this past week I met a lovely couple, Vivian and Mike, who had quite an RV horror story to tell. They were on the road in their new Tiffin Phaeton and told me why it was new—their first coach was stolen after only nine months of ownership. Here is their tale of woe:
We bought a used 2014 Tiffin Phaeton motorhome in November 2020 and enjoyed a 6,500-mile trip across the country visiting National Parks in Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas, then on to Michigan to spend time with our daughter, son-in-law and grandson.
On July 12, 2021, we stopped by our secure RV storage facility to see if we could park in a different spot that was easier to get in and out of. When we drove in we said, “Where is our motorhome?!” The space where our coach should have been was empty!
On our way to the office I said that there HAD to be a logical explanation for it not being there. The woman in the office informed us that they had a break-in the previous Friday when 14 RVs were vandalized (they stole catalytic converters). Apparently, the thieves decided our motorhome would be an excellent getaway vehicle! The storage facility had no idea our motorhome had been stolen until we happened to stop by. A review of video footage showed how they hot-wired the emergency vehicle access box for the gate and two people in masks and hooded sweatshirts working quickly stealing catalytic converters before leaving in our motorhome.
An RV horror story molten mess
We filed a police report and sometime later a detective called us to say they had found our motorhome burned out in a remote location a few miles from the storage facility. They had driven it about a mile down a dirt road in a heavily forested area… IN JULY!! It appears the thieves did not want to leave any DNA or fingerprints behind so they torched it and it burned to molten metal. It is absolutely amazing that it did not ignite a forest fire. We had a full 75-gallon diesel fuel tank and two full propane tanks. There was nothing left except one Yeti cup and a quarter in the rubble.
One perp was arrested
A few months later one of the perpetrators was arrested and found guilty of a felony crime. He was sentenced to about 18 months in jail and ordered to pay restitution to us (~$9,000) and our insurance company (~$75,000). We received our first installment check last month in the amount of $11.82. I’m not sure we will live long enough to collect the full amount!
Fortunately for Mike and Vivian, their insurance company reimbursed them the market value of the coach and they were able to buy another RV.
Catalytic converter crime is skyrocketing
Vivian and Mike were victims of a crime that has become a huge problem for storage companies, parking garages, car dealers and repair shops. Catalytic converters evidently aren’t too difficult to steal—it only takes 30 seconds—and they can fetch up to $300 on the “black” market. The reason they fetch so much money is they contain platinum and other precious metals. Unfortunately, it will cost you $3,000 or more to replace the part. Of course, not everyone is as unlucky as Vivian and Mike, whose coach was reduced to molten metal during the theft. Wow, can you imagine what that inferno looked like?
Tips to deter thieves
Here are some steps from AAA to deter thieves from taking off with your auto’s catalytic converter. These tips apply to RVs as well.
- If you have a garage, always park your car there rather than leaving it in the driveway.
- If you have a carport or parking space at your home, install motion-detector security lights and set a car alarm.
- During the day, when you drive to work or somewhere away from home, avoid parking in isolated areas. Instead, park your car where there’s more foot and vehicle traffic, making anyone who might be targeting your car more likely to be seen.
- Buy an anti-theft device. Converter-protection devices, such as Cat Shield and Cat Security, have been developed for many vehicles frequently targeted by thieves. Depending on the vehicle, the shields cost $140 to $340, plus installation, which takes about an hour. For many vehicles, muffler shops can bend and weld rebar to form a cage around the converter.
- Etch your license plate number or VIN number on your car’s converter to make it more easily identifiable to the police.
Fortunately, new laws are being put in place to make it harder for thieves to sell the pilfered parts, but the crime is still surging.
In the meantime, if you are fortunate enough to have a choice about where you store your RV, please choose a storage company that has taken measures to beef up its security and have taken steps to deter catalytic converter theft.