ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO) — A group of men were caught stealing car parts from a Rockford auto center overnight.

Officers were called to Greater Rockford Auto Auction, 5937 Sandy Hollow Rd, after an alarm went off at the shop. Investigators reportedly found a hole in the fence around the building and found three people walking inside the fenced-in area. Police asked the suspects to stop, and all three men ran away.

Officers caught up with and arrested Rael Gonzalez, Roberto Renya and Elijah Reyna. Bolt cutters, a Sawzall and saw blades were found at the scene. Court record showed that Gonzalez said he put the other men up to the crime.

Investigators believe the men were trying to steal catalytic converters, a problem auto shops are seeing across the stateline. Thieves are looking for a quick buck, cashing in on car parts.

However, Nathan Kurt, owner of Kurt’s Service Center, 1510 Cunningham St, said that there are a few things residents can do to prevent thefts.

“We are even seeing a little bit of a spike in popular vehicles,” Kurt said. “Toyota Prius, those can bring anywhere on the market salvage yards, recyclers, I’m hearing, upwards of $1000 to $1,200.”

It is an important part of the car that part thieves want to get their hands on.

“They are after the converters, like I said,” Kurt said. “There’s precious metals, rhodium and platinum are the main ones in it.”

Kurt said that he has been seeing a lot more cars missing their catalytic converters coming in. It is a piece of exhaust mounted onto cars that converts toxic gases into less harmful substances.

Removing the piece takes less than a minute. Thieves can just slide under the car and chop off the converter. It is happening so much that U-Haul trucks have their own protection.

“U-Haul is sending us cages, and we are actually mounting cages up,” Kurt said. “We replace the converter and mount a cage up, and then we weld that cage, or sometimes we can bolt it in, and it’s a rebar cage, so it makes it a lot harder. Even if they were to cut it, it falls down in the cage.”

Kurt hopes that something will be done to deter this king of crime in the meantime.

“I think, you know, we could see some stricter laws coming down the road, where you are a person who is bringing in catalytic converter‘s into salvage yards, or recycling facilities, they’re gonna wanna ID, they’re gonna want some information from you,” Kurt said.

Police said that residents can best protect themselves, and their cars, by parking inside if it is an option. If not, they should try to park under a light, or can try an alarm or cameras. Residents can also spray paint or etch information onto the part, making it easier to identify their own converter if it is stolen.