Etch and Catch program aims to curb catalytic converter thefts

Catalytic converters have become a popular target for thieves, and police in Takoma Park, Maryland, hope to change that.

The police department has teamed up again with a local auto repair shop to launch an Etch and Catch program, which will allow vehicle owners to get their license plate number etched onto the car’s catalytic converter free of charge.

That number is then spray-painted with a bright paint, and the owner is given a bright yellow sticker for their car indicating that the catalytic converter has been etched, in hopes that it deters would-be thieves.

Thefts of that car part have become far too common around the D.C. area. Last week, Fairfax County, Virginia, Police Chief Kevin Davis told WTOP that the rise in catalytic converter thefts is “driving our crime” in the county. And Takoma Park’s announcement Tuesday of the initiative follows two reported converter thefts within the past week. There were 12 such thefts in the city in 2020; that increased to 17 the following year.

And it’s not just locally: Thefts of catalytic converters have gone up nationwide over the past few years. According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, they jumped by 325% from 2019 to 2020.

So what makes these devices — which reduce airborne pollutants — such an attractive target to thieves?



It’s the precious metal inside. They generally contain platinum, palladium or rhodium, and thieves can get anywhere from $50 to $250 for every converter they steal, according to Takoma Park police. Getting it replaced, unfortunately, costs much more for the owner — anywhere from around $1,000 to well over $2,000.

They’re also easy to steal: Skilled thieves armed with a wrench or cordless saw can get ahold of it in two to three minutes. Owners usually learn they’ve been a victim when they start their car and hear a loud roar.

According to the NICB, trucks are popular targets because the converters are easier to access. The Toyota Prius is popular, as well, because they generally have two converters.

In addition to getting your vehicle’s catalytic converter etched, there are a few other ways to prevent theft. Some owners get rebar welded onto the converter or have a cage installed over it to slow down would-be thieves. Then of course, there are the common-sense practices of parking in a well-lit area or inside a locked garage.

Takoma Park residents who want to get their vehicles’ catalytic converters etched can call RS Automotive at 301-270-4418 for an appointment.

Police there also advise that you call authorities if you hear anything out of the ordinary, such as power tools or sawing. Another red flag: if you see a vehicle stopped in the middle of the road next to a parked vehicle.

Jack Pointer

Jack contributes to WTOP.com when he's not working as the afternoon/evening radio writer. In a previous life, he helped edit The Dallas Morning News and Chicago Tribune.

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