University City police have reported four cases of tire thefts in the past two weeks. In all four cases, the cars were Nissans parked in driveways of residential communities near Back Creek Church and Harris Houston roads.
The thefts all took place at night, and the owners discovered their cars stripped of their tires and propped on milk crates in the morning. Three of the four cases involved 2008 Nissans and the fourth was a 2005 model.
No similar incidents have been reported to police in the surrounding divisions.
Newer Nissan cars are most likely the target because the majority of the newer makes have aluminum wheels. The total value of each unit is valued at $1,200, with its wheel, tire, lug nuts, center caps and tire pressure sensor capable of being sold separately.
When compared to a steel wheel with a standard hubcap, worth less than $400, aluminum wheels can be more than three times as valuable.
The cost for victims, or their insurance companies, to replace all four tires may be as much as $5,000.
These events come in the wake of a spike in thefts of catalytic converters, sold to scrap yards for their platinum parts, and an increase in cut fuel lines in the past month.
Catalytic converters and fuel can be sold for a good profit, with platinum valued at $1,000 per ounce at scrap yards and fuel pushing $4 per gallon. But these wheels – police, scrap yard workers and Nissan mechanics say – may be more trouble than they're worth.
“If the thieves scrapped the wheels, they would get about $10 per wheel,” said Joey Seay, a parts counterman at East Charlotte Nissan. “And even then, they would have to remove the tires, the lug nuts and everything else before they could go to a scrap yard.”
Additionally, state laws require scrap yards to collect proper identification before buying any parts, which makes it even harder for thieves to make a profit from scrapping.
Citing these obstacles, Tim Weaver, the account executive for Charlotte scrap yard Southern Resources, speculates that the thieves are probably selling the intact tires online.
“I know people who are willing to buy a good set of tires for up to $1,500,” Weaver said. “That's probably what's actually going on.”
Without any identification codes attached to the tires, police are having a hard time tracking down the thieves. Capt. Freda Lester of the University City police division advises residents to use tire locks and keep outside house lights on at night so that the criminals aren't shielded by darkness.