Car owners fear for the future of their tires and rims

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It’s become an all-too-familiar sight for some drivers who park their cars overnight. They return the next morning to find a window or two shattered and valuables stolen. Sometimes, they find a window partially pried out of place, the would-be thief likely caught in the act.

But victimizing a parked car is more than just finding what’s on the inside. It’s the outside, too, with some owners returning to find their windows and valuable are fine, but the vehicle itself is up on blocks, the tires and rims stolen.

Victims have shared pictures of such sights on social media, and have said the problem seems the worst near P.S. 24 Spuyten Duyvil and on Independence Avenue — both relatively well-trafficked areas.

Having larger parts of the car stolen isn’t a new phenomenon, however, said Emin Kaunis. In 2017, he turned on his car to an unusually loud roar. When he looked under the car, he saw that his catalytic converter had been ripped from the undercarriage of the vehicle.

The catalytic converter is part of a car’s exhaust system, and works to reduce the pollutants the car produces. Thieves target the systems because they contain platinum, Kaunis said, an expensive precious metal popular in jewelry and watches. Some companies will buy large numbers of the converters to harvest their platinum.

Tires, on the other hand, aren’t useful for much more than just driving, but therein lies the point. Tires are expensive, and popular in “chop shops” that sell stolen or used auto parts. A full tire installation for a newer Honda Accord, for example, could run well over $500.

Kaunis said he’s noticed a huge increase in stolen tires as he drives around Riverdale. Coupled with the recent spate of broken windows, he called the thefts “a statement to the lack of law enforcement,” frustrated with a perceived lack of action from local police.

While it may seem to onlookers and car owners like tire thefts are up, they really aren’t, said 50th Precinct crime prevention officer Ralph Cintron.

“I think it’s kind of just social media,” he said. “Our precinct has always been notorious for that, unfortunately. That’s the biggest crime in our command, you have nice cars and money here.”

Easy access to major highways like the Major Deegan Expressway and the Henry Hudson Parkway also can make for an easy getaway for car thieves.

“I think people are just putting it out there more, numbers wise I can’t really say that’s true,” Cintron said. “If it is up, it’s 1 or 2 percent.”

The New York Police Department’s property protection services offers two deterrents for stolen cars. Those worried about having the entire vehicle stolen have two options — CAT or VIN etching.

CAT, or combat auto theft, registers a vehicle with the NYPD. If an officer sees that car on the streets between 1 and 5 a.m., they can pull it over to see who’s driving. VIN etching entails police carving the car’s vehicle identification number into one or more windows, which they call a “strong deterrent” for thieves.

Neither will prevent tire stealing or break-ins, though. Older technology, including video cameras and plain old patrol cars, could be more effective in combating the street crime, police say. In 2018, then-state Sen. Jeffrey Klein granted $100,000 to the district attorney’s “bait car” program, a dummy car planted in high crime areas designed to attract thieves with visible items like wallets, computers or other valuables. Then when someone tries to break in, police are there to arrest them.

Parking in garages or well-lit, safe areas are the best options for preventing tire theft, Cintron said. Given the nature of parking in Riverdale, however, his best recommendation is for wheel locks.

“I have two wheel locks on each tire of mine,” he said. “Wheel locks are the best thing if you can’t park it somewhere safe.”

But that doesn’t mean the tires are completely safe. A crook with time can work their way through the lock. But because it takes more work and costs time — which most thieves don’t have on the street — it could convince them to move on to a less-protected target.

In fact, Cintron says there are few if any reports made to police of stolen tires that had been protected with wheel locks.

And if you’re a driver of a Honda Civic or Accord — two of the most popular models in the United States, your car might be at a higher risk, Cintron said. “Generic” cars like those are targeted because of how popular they are.

“Everybody has Hondas. That’s why their parts are stolen the most,” Cintron said. “If you steal a Lamborghini’s mirror, where are you going to sell it? The cars you see out there on the road the most are the more susceptible, because they’re generic parts you can swap out, that you can get rid of easier.”

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