Md. Car Owners Try to Stem Rise In Thefts of Catalytic Converters

By Dan Morse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 26, 2008

Like a growing number of Marylanders, Les Barker recently fell victim to the catalytic converter crime wave: Someone crawled under his Toyota sport-utility vehicle, sawed off the device and probably sold it for its valuable platinum innards.

Barker wasn't about to let it happen again.

He got the catalytic converter replaced. Then he called a metal fabricator in Ohio and ordered a CatClamp, a contraption made of metal plates and thick cables that creates a cage around the converter. He and a buddy attached it to his Toyota 4Runner at Barker's house in Howard County.

Now, Barker says, "I can sleep at night."

Throughout Maryland, vehicle owners, law enforcement officials, insurance adjusters and muffler shop owners are reacting to a crime that police say has multiplied with an increase in the costs of platinum and other precious metals in catalytic converters that help scrub out pollutants. A converter is a filter connected to a car's exhaust system that is designed to curb air pollution.

Prices for platinum were $2,040 per troy ounce this month, up from $664 five years ago, according to Platinum Today, a business unit of Johnson Matthey, a specialty chemicals company.

Apparently, no Maryland counties are immune from the catalytic crime wave.

In Montgomery County, investigators tracked 61 converter capers last year, at least some of which involved more than one device per incident. In Prince George's County, mechanics such as Joseph Kim, who works at a Meineke Car Care Center in District Heights, have seen as many as five motorists a week come roaring in with a section of their cars' exhaust systems cut out.

Howard and Anne Arundel counties have been hit, as have St. Mary's, Calvert and Charles counties in Southern Maryland. One day last month, someone sawed off converters in cars at Calvert Middle School and Calvert Memorial Hospital in Prince Frederick. Another converter was stolen about the same time from a Prince Frederick commuter parking lot.

In St. Mary's County, catalytic converter thieves struck last weekend and have hit several times this year.

Thieves typically use an electric reciprocating saw and often travel with charged batteries. They like pickups and SUVs, which have high ground clearance for easy access.

Once under a vehicle, thieves can remove the devices in minutes. They often hit park-and-ride, commuter or car sales lots.

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