Metal thieves target hot item from cars

July 28, 2008 4:53:35 PM PDT
When Rich Dooley came out to start his SUV Saturday morning, he got a rude awakening. His catalytic converter had been stolen overnight. "I looked under the car and there was a 3 foot section of the exhaust missing. It looked like it had been surgically cut."

Dooley went to a repair shop to have it replaced at the total cost of $1000, and he learned he's the latest victim of a growing crime trend. Catalytic converters are increasingly hot targets for precious metal thieves in the Delaware Valley and across the nation.

Vinne Restituto of Meineke Mufflers says, "Instead of having one a week, sometimes it's one, two, three a week, sometimes 2 a day."

Used catalytic converters, on the surface, appear worthless but inside there are traces of 3 expensive precious metals; platinum, palladium and rhodium. Rhodium on the open market is worth $6000 an ounce.

Mechanic Dave Greenburg says, "It's a big problem. They're worth a lot of money and it doesn't take long to cut them off and sell to a scrap dealer for hundreds of dollars."

Greenberg even showed a $20 exhaust pipe cutter, one of the standard metal cutting tools that can make theft of the easy to grab converter a lightning quick crime.

"There's steel wheels in here. Just by twisting, it will is will clamp 30 seconds."

Some SUV's and high end imports can have 2 to 4 converters mounted undercarriage. They can cost up to $1200 apiece to replace. Meineke is starting to engrave license tag numbers on converters they install to help police trace them. Veteran scrap metal dealer Joe Kairis is purchasing a camera and computer system to record all the purchases he makes.

"Even the old lady that brings in her cans every week, I guess we'll have to card her."