Thieves leave car behind without any of its doors

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Herb Eysser was shocked with what he discovered recently in his Fieldston Road neighborhood. 

A car was parked where the driver left it. Well, most of it. Two of its doors were missing.

“You don’t see that every day,” Eysser, a long-time North Riverdale resident, said. “Somebody taking the doors off a car? It’s bad enough if they take off the wheels.”

But crimes like this aren’t exactly new in the neighborhood.

“We’re having more and more problems and seeing less and less police,” Eysser said. “This neighborhood is not getting any better.” 

Both Eysser and Pamela Danzig, another resident who’s lived in this part of the Bronx her entire life, said people frequently and brazenly park their cars in front of fire hydrants on their street.

“I call it in at least once a week, but never see anybody getting a ticket up here,” Danzig said.

Neither Eysser nor Danzig knew exactly when the doors disappeared, but Danzig said it likely happened before Nov. 18. Eysser recalled the car was a late-model Nissan Altima.

Danzig remembered a neighbor who, last August, got into her rental car and started driving without realizing her wheels were loose. Luckily, some fellow motorists on the highway brought it to her attention before it became a problem.

“I guess someone tried to steal the tires because they were brand new,” Danzig said. 

Yet, even with these problem, it’s still rare to see a police presence in the neighborhood. 

The only time Danzig really saw one, she said, was when she got a double-parking ticket — while standing next to her car.

This isn’t the first time rims and tires have been stolen in this part of the borough, the 50th Precinct’s Juan Ventura said. Doors, well that’s not so common.

Although he wasn’t talking about this particular case specifically, one auto shop owner said when doors go missing, the first suspect is likely quite close to home — the car’s owner. 

“The guy takes off the doors, hides them, makes a claim with his insurance company, gets an estimate, they’ll write you a check, and you put the doors back on,” said Steve Tierney, owner of Karl’s Auto Body Repair in Kingsbridge. “It’s not difficult at all.”

These days, Tierney doesn’t hear about door theft cases often. But 25 to 30 years ago, it was more common. 

Lately, the car part of choice for thieves has been rims and tires, Tierney said, particularly with older model Hondas with brand new wheels. That’s because people can steal new wheels from newer Hondas and fit them to the older ones. In the Northwest Bronx, the shop owner added, big rims are especially popular.

Just last week, Tierney picked up a Honda Accord on West 246th Street and Fieldston Road after its wheels were stolen.

Gus Papavasilakis, who along with his brother Angelo runs Dale-Way Auto Body Center in Kingsbridge, said most newer model cars have chip keys, so a thief can’t just cut the wires and start the car like in the movies. Trying to tow a vehicle away not only is a big risk, it’s not exactly stealthy. 

Even if the ignition lock were broken, the car wouldn’t start without recognizing the key chip.

Whoever stole the doors of the car near 5400 Fieldston Road probably just needed the doors, Papavasilakis said. It could’ve been someone who worked at an auto body shop who needed a particular color door.

“This way they don’t have to paint them,” Papavasilakis said. 

Also, some doors are made up of several pricey components — air bags, the master switch on the driver’s door that controls all the windows and door locks, the interior trim panel, the upholstery — all items that can run anywhere from several hundred dollars on the low end to more than $1,000 per door. 

“Usually cars — especially Toyotas, Hondas and Nissans — are very limited in their color selection, and the interior color is usually just a handful of choices,” Papavasilakis said. “So if somebody was looking for that specific color, interior and exterior, that was a big savings for them.”

This was a much more common practice in the 1990s, Papavasilakis said, at least in the Northwest Bronx, although not so long ago, he encountered what appeared to be a door theft on a Honda Civic, right across the street from P.S. 24 Spuyten Duyvil.

“Someone called us up and we got the car, replaced the doors and the interior trim,” Papavasilakis said. “It was very costly — at least $5,000 or $6,000 worth of damage.”

As far as removing the door, Papavasilakis said it’s a swift process. The first step is opening it, which can be done with a slim jim-style lockout tool, or by breaking the window. Once unlocked, the door’s hinge bolts must be undone. The check strap —which stops the door from opening too far — is disconnected by popping out a pin. Then the wires are cut.

“So in a matter of 10 minutes you can have a door off the car,” Papavasilakis said. 

With power tools, it’s even faster.

More common these days, Papavasilakis said, at least based on what he’s heard from other mechanics, are thieves who target catalytic converters, which are typically found under the car, behind one of the front tires, and tend to cost a couple thousand dollars to replace. 

Even after a string of recent incidents right in his backyard, Eysser said there’s room for optimism.

“Last night I took the dog out for a walk and there was a police car parked in front of my apartment house,” he said. “So we already got some kind of attention from the precinct.”

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