Mechanics at an automotive shop in Takoma Park, Maryland, spent Friday afternoon etching serial numbers on catalytic converters and painting them.
Depeshwar Doley, the owner of RS Automotive, said police asked him to offer the service so they can better track the commonly stolen car part. Doley is doing it for free, and his customers are clamoring for it.
“We’ve been getting calls one after the other, nonstop,” he said.
Catalytic converters are a part of the vehicle’s exhaust system, and help to reduce vehicle pollution. Inside the parts are valuable metals, including platinum, palladium or rhodium. It takes only minutes for experienced thieves to cut them out of cars.
According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, the thefts have skyrocketed nationwide since the pandemic began. The agency tracked 652 catalytic converter thefts in January 2020, and by December, that number reached nearly 2,500.
Takoma Park police said they are seeing the spike too. Toyota Prius vehicles are the most coveted, said Doley.
“They’re getting like $400, $500, $600,” Doley said. “We noticed last year all of a sudden the surge [in thefts]. These guys are having a feast.”
In addition to carving the serial numbers and painting catalytic converters, Doley’s team also posts a bright yellow sticker on cars warning thieves that the car parts are marked.
Julie Wiatt is one of Doley’s long-time customers. She said that some of her neighbors were struck by thieves.
She wanted to get the service Friday afternoon, but all of the time slots were taken. She will have to wait a couple of weeks.
“I’m not even sure where it is in the car and what it does,” Wiatt said. “But, it seems like a great idea.”