Thieves in Montgomery Co. targeting high-cost car parts

Having a car stolen is a massive blow, but what about when thieves target specific parts? Police in Montgomery County, Maryland, are telling residents that there are steps they can take to protect themselves.

Sgt. Michael Sugrue, with the Montgomery County police, has spent 18 years of his career investigating automotive-related crimes. He said the county has tracked a large number of people reporting parts being stolen from their cars this year.

Between Jan. 1 and Aug. 11, there were almost 600 reported cases of car parts being stolen.

The part most commonly stolen by thieves is the catalytic converter — a part of a car’s exhaust system that helps limit the harmful emissions. Sugrue said with the right tools, thieves can pull the catalytic converter off a vehicle in two to five minutes and bring it to a scrapyard for a quick payout.

He said thieves mostly strike at night, and residents should be wary of any uncommon noises coming from the area where they park and contact the police if they think something is amiss.

“What we see is a lot of times — if you talk to people after when, you know, you’ve had a spree of these — is, somebody invariably will say ‘I heard something at night, you know, out of the normal, it’s the middle of the night, I heard this kind of a metallic sound, or my dog started barking,’ and they just kind of, they just don’t pay attention to it, they don’t call the police,” Sugrue said.

The thieves usually operate out of a work van or a truck — anything that can store the stolen parts and the tools needed for removing them.

So far, 275 catalytic converters have been reported stolen in the county since the beginning of the year.

The second-most commonly stolen car part is the airbag — 144 of them have been stolen in the county to date. Sugrue said the airbags are sold to repair shops willing to avoid asking where they came from.

“If you’re working with an insurance company, and the insurance company is working with a particular body shop, make sure whoever you’re dealing with is reputable. They should be providing documentation,” he said.

There have been almost 90 reported cases of thieves stealing tires and rims in the county in 2021, and miscellaneous car parts — such as stereos — make up the bulk of the remainder of cases.

There were also a number of reported cases of safety features — such as radar sensors — being taken off newer vehicles, especially Hondas.

Sugrue advises residents to always be sure their vehicles are locked and their car alarms are armed before they walk away from the car for an extended period of time.

“If you hear an alarm, please do something about it — call the police,” he said. “Spend a few minutes. Just look out the window — don’t turn any lights on, but just be safe. Call the police.”

WTOP’s John Aaron contributed to this report.

Zeke Hartner

Zeke Hartner is a digital writer/editor who has been with WTOP since 2017. He is a graduate of North Carolina State University’s Political Science program and an avid news junkie.

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