The rising tide of catalytic converter theft in the United States struck one of its most high-profile victims yet: the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile.
First introduced by the meat production company in 1936, the famed hot dog-shaped vehicles are used to advertise Oscar Mayer foodstuffs by touring the country and stopping in cities or at major events. Six of the attention-grabbing, 27-foot long cars are currently in operation.
One of the vehicles was stopped for the night in Las Vegas last week for events related to the Super Bowl when it was believed to have been targeted for its catalytic converter, a component that converts the toxic by-products of internal combustion into less harmful exhaust. The operators of the Wienermobile found that it wouldn’t start on Friday morning due to the stolen part, forcing it to be towed away for repairs.
Penske Truck Rental ended up handling the situation, outfitting the unorthodox vehicle with a temporary catalytic converter and allowing it to make it on time for an event at 10 a.m. local time. While the shop was able to find a part that fit the vehicle sufficiently, a proper replacement part will take up to two months to ship. It’s unclear at this time how Oscar Mayer is handling the situation going forward.
Joseph Rodriguez, a parts administrator for Penske, spoke to KLAS News about the absurdity of the situation relative to the shop’s typical work.
“A hot dog truck, no way,” Rodriguez said. “Imagine like a huge hot dog in the middle of your bay. There’s all these other trucks and you got to work on this.”
The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department said on Friday morning that it had not received any reports of theft related to the iconic branded car. Sonesta Suites, the hotel chain where the vehicle was parked overnight, told KLAS that it is currently investigating the situation.
Over the last few years, catalytic converters have increasingly been targeted by thieves all across the U.S., due to the high value of certain metals used in their creation, including palladium, rhodium, and platinum. KLAS reported that over 2,600 converters were reported stolen to the Las Vegas Metro Police in 2022 alone. Nationwide, the trend accelerated, like many crimes, during the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, the National Insurance Crime Bureau reported over 14,000 instances of catalytic converter theft, up from only around 3,400 in 2019.
“It’s a huge problem,” Rodriguez said about the trend, as he has experienced it in the Las Vegas Valley. “It’s been going on for a couple of years now. Last summer especially, it was like two to three months to get one.”
Newsweek reached out to Oscar Mayer for comment.