PORTLAND – When David James returned from vacation in Hawaii recently and started the Toyota pickup he had parked at a hotel near Portland International Airport, the engine roared: Someone had stolen the catalytic converter.
James, of Sublimity, Ore., found himself part of a growing trend: Metal thefts are on the rise as the market for scrap and recycled metal becomes more lucrative.
Thieves target catalytic converters largely because they contain platinum, and the value of platinum is rapidly rising, said Jan Church, of AAA Precious Metals Inc. in Portland.
The price of platinum has increased from $1,350 an ounce in October to about $1,550 in January.
Carl Anfield, of Anfield and Sons Metal Recyclers LLC in Portland, said thefts of catalytic converters also have increased because the devices contain rhodium, which recyclers can now extract. Rhodium, a rare precious metal, sells for about $6,000 an ounce.
To thieves, catalytic converters are an easy mark.
“(Thieves) can steal them in three minutes,” said Kyle Crutchfield, an employee at a Meineke auto repair shop near the Portland airport. “They crawl underneath the cars and cut them off with electric chop saws.”
Crutchfield said the shop has replaced at least five stolen catalytic converters each week for the past four or five months.
Though most of the victims were traveling when their catalytic converters were stolen, Crutchfield said, vehicles anywhere are vulnerable.
“People have had them stolen while they’re eating lunch, or at their apartments or jobs,” said Rodney Dascenzo, manager of a Meineke shop. “The majority (are stolen) right out in front of the home.”
SUVs and pickups are particularly vulnerable because it is easier to crawl under the high-clearance vehicles, Dascenzo said. Some thieves use handsaws to cut the parts from the vehicles, but others simply unbolt them.
The removal usually does not set off car alarms because it requires little motion.
A replacement catalytic converter typically costs the owner about $250, Dascenzo said. The thieves can get $30 to $165 for them.
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