UM police are warning drivers to keep a closer eye on their cars.
On both the Coral Gables and Miller School of Medicine campuses, catalytic converters are being stolen from parked cars. Over the past year six converters have gone missing, two of which have been taken from the Coral Gables campus this semester.
According to UMPD Lt. Michael Colombo, a catalytic converter is a pollution-control device that is attached to the exhaust pipe. It contains the precious metals platinum and rhodium, which are the catalysts that react with a car’s hot exhaust to minimize the damage caused to the environment by carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons.
By law, every car made after 1975 is required to have at least one.
“In the cases we have seen, it appears the thieves used saws to cut off the device,” Colombo said.
He explained that it can be done in a matter of minutes. All it takes is two short cuts to the exhaust pipe on both sides of the converter and the job is done.
The victim of the theft will still be able to drive the car, according to an article on the car information Web site Edmunds.com. There may be additional damage, however, if the thieves were sloppy, not to mention the increased environmental impact the car will now have.
The precious metals are what drive thieves to crawl under cars and saw off the catalytic converter: an ounce of platinum sells for $2,000, while an ounce of rhodium can be sold for $9,500 according to a notice from the police.
The catalytic converter would be sold for $150 to $200, depending on the metals found inside. Replacing it would be more costly. The device itself is not so expensive, some selling for $60. Add the cost of installation plus other possible damages, and that amount could go up to $1,000. If the targeted car is an SUV or a truck, the price would be even higher.
“I’m a little worried about [the robberies], but, honestly, I think I’d take my chances,” commuter student sophomore Erik Jorge said.
The problem may not be so widespread, but those who don’t want to take their chances can take certain precautions to protect their catalytic converters. Some options UMPD suggests are welding the device to the frame of the vehicle, engraving the license plate on the converter to make it traceable or buying a vehicle security system that can be triggered with the slightest motion.
There is also a device that could be purchased called the CatClamp. It is a cage that is placed around the catalytic converter, which can be bought for $150, a far more favorable fee than the possible replacement costs.
Director of Parking and Transporation Richard Sobaram is confident that UMPD and his department are well equipped to protect the UM parking lots, preventing students and faculty from having to pay those costs.
“Parking officers serve as extra eyes and ears for the police department and every parking officer receives special training from UMPD on crime awareness and how to spot and report suspicious behavior,” Sobaram said.
Laura Yepes may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.