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Tire firm battles catalytic convertor thefts
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Priority Tire & Brake owner Bill Cronin of Ripon, right, and Manteca patrolman Armen Avakian observe technician and mechanic Justin Lee etch the license plate number on a catalytic converter in hopes of curbing thefts. - photo by GLENN KAHL
Customers of Priority Tire & Brake are getting something extra tossed in with services or tires they purchase - the etching of their license plate numbers on high-theft catalytic convertors.

The converters are sought after by thieves who either unbolt them or cut them off of cars and trucks in the dark of night.

The converters that are easiest to remove are found on Toyota cars and trucks.  In the past when officers would make a late night car stop, and find a number of converters, they have had no way of proving they were stolen. The lack of a serial number relates to no identifiable victim.

So with every tire rotation, purchase of new tires, alignment or the repairing of a flat tire, the etching of the license plate number of the vehicle onto the converter will be offered.

The value of the converters is reflected in the precious metal they contain.  The platinum is valued at up to $1,300 an ounce.  Pladium in the converters brings an estimated $370 an ounce and the rhodium can reportedly be traded on the open market for up to $6,000 an ounce.

Thieves are said to fence the stolen catalytic converters for about $50 each.  Surprised motorists first learn of the missing component when they start their vehicles up in the morning and are startled by a very loud exhaust noise.

Priority Tire & Brake in the 800 block of East Yosemite Avenue has replaced the long-established Big O Tire franchise at that location.

With the firm for some 32 years, Bill Cronin of Ripon said that in taking his firm to an independent status it enables him to provide many other brands of tires including the Michelin, Good Year, and B.F. Goodrich products with better pricing.

Cronin started with the tire company when he was a 17-year-old senior at Ripon High working after school and on weekends in 1980 for then owner Sonny Christensen. He eventually bought out the franchise from his longtime boss.

Gina Cronin serves as her husband’s bookkeeper in the business. She is also employed professionally as an emergency room nurse at Doctors Hospital of Manteca.  She also runs the Emergency Responders Academy for students wanting to become emergency medical technicians and paramedics located in the 300 block of East Yosemite Avenue.

The Cronins have four sons; the oldest is Danny, 26, who serves as a paramedic for American Medical Response in Stockton.  Junior, 28, works with his grandfather refinishing furniture.  Eric, 19, is attending Humphreys Law School in Stockton and Kevin, 16, is a Ripon High School sophomore.

When Cronin started in the tire business on Yosemite Avenue, he remembers working about 30 hours a week while still in high school.  After graduation he continued with the company and never left, he recalls.  

When Sunny retired he became manager and bought the business in 2005.  Cronin said his customer base come primarily from Manteca, Lathrop and Ripon.  As for the motto and philosophy behind his company: “Customer Service is Number One.”

He added, “Once you buy a product from us, all your services, rotation, flats, rebalancing is all free of charge.  Etching is done and we do all under car service.  That’s what separates us from the warehouses – they don’t check your alignment – they don’t check your brakes or do any of that service for you,” Cronin said.   As for his hobbies there’s fly fishing, camping in the Sierra, above Strawberry, Carson River and the Dardanelles. Cronin says he put about 60 hours a week at his business in Manteca – 10 hours a day, six days a week.