Thefts of catalytic converters have been on the rise in recent months, according to the Newton County Sheriff's Office reports, driven in part by the rising price of the precious metals found inside.
Within the past couple weeks, deputies have seen more than 25 catalytic converter thefts, said NCSO spokesperson Investigator Sharron Stewart.
"It seems to be something new and different they're trying," said Stewart, who added that both Rockdale and Butts counties have also seen a rise in such thefts.
Removing the metal is extremely difficult and few places go to the trouble of doing it, said Stewart. "They're not taking them to our local salvage yards," Stewart said.
Paul Bacon, general manager at Oconee Metal Recovery, said the local scrap metal recycling yard pays a very low price for converters compared to other places. "We don't buy very many converters for that reason," Bacon said, adding they became a hot commodity in recent years.
Catalytic converters contain a tiny amount of platinum and other precious metals inside which act as a catalyst to convert more harmful gasses, such as carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides, into less harmful emissions, such as carbon dioxide, oxygen, and nitrogen. Without the converters, which are welded onto the exhaust system, the cars make a huge racket.
The price of platinum and related precious metals has more than doubled in the last four years, according to Platinum Today, a price tracking web site, driven in part by a recently reduced supply from South African mines and the growing demand, ironically, for catalytic converters.
The owner of a Covington car sales business recently discovered thieves had struck more than 11 of the cars on his lot by sawing off the catalytic converters as well as taking unattached converters.
He suspected it might have happened over the weekend but didn't notice it until Tuesday. "We started looking and every car we looked underneath, they were missing," he said.
His business had experienced a few converter thefts in the past, but nothing to this extent, he said.
Though some of the ravaged vehicles were junk cars, others were cars that had already been sold to customers. Replacing the converters and fixing the cars cost him an average of $250 per car.
He said he hesitates at parking the cars in the back lot and is trying to better watch the property, but "it's hard to know when someone's going to take it like that."
"If you've got a car that sits high up in the air, you could be in a Kroger parking lot and they could take it off without jacking up your car. They just roll right under and get it," he said.