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Northern Virginia police see spike in auto thefts of catalytic converters

Police say the market rate value for the metals is driving the trend

ARLINGTON, Va. — Car owners beware: Police are seeing a rise in auto thefts. Not the entire car but the catalytic converter.  

In many cases, police said these skilled crooks are stealing more than 10 in one night alone. Depending on the type of car, you may have between one and four catalytic converters. They look like mufflers and are part of the vehicle’s exhaust system. It converts your engine’s emissions into gases that are safer for the environment. Right now, they’re worth thousands of dollars. 

WUSA9 visited Friendly Used Auto Parts Wednesday and the phone did not stop ringing. Folks typically call to look for parts or get rid of an old vehicle. Manager Jonathan Howsare said there’s a new standard operating procedure when cars come into the lot.

“As soon as we get them, we test the engines and take them off,” explained Howsare.  

The shop has a whole barrel full of catalytic converters. They are worth their weight in gold – literally. 

“They all got different precious metals in them, gold, rhodium, silver of all types.  Things that go into making them which is why they steal them because of the value,” said Howsare.  

According to Cars.com, the resale value of the metals that make up a converter has skyrocketed with just an ounce of rhodium racking up nearly $18,000.  

So, we asked our friends at the Fort Washington, Maryland lot to demonstrate how quickly these crooks are cashing in by cutting out a car’s catalytic converter. David demonstrated and we set our timer. One thing we did learn: the higher a vehicle sits off the ground, the easier the access.

“A lot of the cars lower to the ground and so forth they’re going to be in more difficult spots to cut off,” said Howsare.  

“We have seen an increase in thefts of catalytic converters. One night in Arlington County recently we had 11 reported stolen from nine vehicles,” said police spokesperson Ashley Savage.

Those converters were stolen overnight in the neighborhood around the 2100 block of 18th Street North. Earlier that night police said three Chicago men were caught in the act. 

“We’re working on learning why they were in the area,” said Savage, who explained the department is working collaboratively with police throughout the region. 

It’s not just Arlington County, police said thefts of catalytic converters are on the rise in Stafford and Loudoun Counties too.  According to the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office, 172 thefts of catalytic converters have been reported countywide so far this year, compared to 100 all of 2021.

So, how long did it take for David to saw out the catalytic converter? Just over one minute.

Police recommend drivers follow the 9 p.m. routine: every night at nine make sure your doors are locked and valuable removed. They said you could also invest in an exterior alarm system.

RELATED: 11 catalytic converters, 7 airbags stolen from vehicles in Arlington, police say

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