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Pa. State Police probe catalytic converter thefts

Thieves likely harvesting precious metals from pollution-control devices

Thieves likely harvesting precious metals from pollution-control devices

April 29, 2008|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. -- The latest trend in thefts from vehicles had nothing to do with what was inside the car.

The thieves instead sought something under them - the catalytic converter and the small quantities of precious metals in each.

"In the last two weeks, we've investigated about 10 episodes of catalytic converters being stolen," Trooper Edward S. Asbury of the Pennsylvania State Police barracks in Chambersburg said Monday. At this point, police have no evidence the cases are linked, but they suspect the stolen pollution-control devices are being processed for the metals or being sold to salvage yards.

· In the most recent report, at about 5 p.m. Sunday, someone cut the converter from a truck at Sunset Auto, 4005 Philadelphia Ave., but fled without the device, police said.

· Between 5 and 5:45 p.m. Friday, converters were stolen from two vehicles parked at Lowe's Home Improvement Center, 1600 Lincoln Way East, police said. A battery-powered saw probably was used, police said.

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· Between 8 p.m. Wednesday and 8 a.m. Thursday, catalytic converters were stolen from several vehicles at Drive Away Auto, 8429 Cumberland Highway, police said.

Catalytic converters take engine exhaust mixed with air and pass them through a platinum catalyst, oxidizing carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons into carbon dioxide and water.

"It's a nationwide trend," Asbury said of the converter thefts.

In addition to platinum, the converters contain rhodium and palladium, a total of about 2 grams for the three metals, he said.

In New York, the price for platinum was $1,969 an ounce at 2:30 p.m. Monday, while palladium was going for $439 an ounce. At 5 p.m., rhodium was trading at $9,035 an ounce. At a combined 2 grams per converter, someone would have to steal 14 of the devices to equal the 28.35 grams in an ounce.

If the thieves are not taking the converters somewhere to have the metals processed, they could still get pretty good money for them at an auto salvage business.

"A used converter could be worth $80 to $300 easy," said Jeremiah Grooms, an employee at Beecher's Auto Salvage and Sales Inc., 7287 Lincoln Way East, Fayetteville, Pa. Converters off foreign vehicles are worth the most, he said.

Anyone walking into the business with a converter to sell, however, would have to produce a driver's license and provide information about the vehicle from which it came, Grooms said.

A woman at another salvage yard gave a more modest estimate on the worth of the converters, saying anywhere from $10 to $180. After-market converters are worth less than factory-installed ones and foreign models fetch higher prices, she said.

Trucks are easier targets because they sit higher off the ground and a thief can get underneath, cut out the converter and get away faster, Asbury said.

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