There’s been a recent surge of car part theft around Ann Arbor and across the nation and Department of Public Safety officials say it’s due to an increase in the price of precious metals.

Over the past few weeks, the number of thefts involving catalytic converters — a part used to convert harmful pollutants into less harmful emissions before they leave the exhaust system of a vehicle — has risen at the University.

In 1975, the United States government mandated that catalytic converters be placed in all U.S. cars and trucks. A key component of the converter is made of precious metals like platinum, rhodium or gold.

According to DPS spokeswoman Diane Brown, there have been five to eight reported thefts of the part on campus. Though normally uncommon, Brown said the thefts have sprung up “in rashes” as the price of metal has increased.

“Periodically this happens particularly when the price of metal goes up,” Brown said. “It’s been quite a bit of time, but a couple years ago we had a lot of theft of spools of wire used on construction.”

She also added that this is not the first time there’s been a trend of catalytic converter thefts on campus.

Brown said the majority of the recent thefts occurred last Tuesday evening in the Northwood Community Apartments parking lot on North Campus, but that multiple thefts have been reported throughout Ann Arbor.

According to the DPS crime log, three thefts were reported on Saturday from cars parked on Beal Street and Cram Place.

Architecture senior Diana Berry, a resident of the Northwood Community Apartments, said she went to drive somewhere Wednesday morning and noticed there was something wrong with her vehicle when she turned it on.

“It sounded like the car was without a muffler,” she said. “It sounded like a racecar.”

Berry said the suspects sawed off her car’s converter, causing the exhaust to come through the engine.

LSA sophomore Jacqueline Wilton said she also had her converter stolen last week.

“I went to my house this weekend, and when I got back I just noticed that my car sounded like a motorcycle,” Wilton said.

Wilton said the theft cost her more than $200 in repairs.

The crimes appear to be following a national trend, with police departments throughout country reporting increases in catalytic converter thefts.

According to a 2008 article on, the thieves slip under vehicles — sometimes in broad daylight and with nothing more then a wrench or a battery-powered saw — and remove the converters in a matter of minutes.

With commodity metal prices skyrocketing in recent years — the price of platinum rose from $500 per ounce in 2000 to more than $1,500 in 2008, according to various news sources — the easy-to-steal converters are becoming more profitable for thieves.

Depending on which metal the converter contains, thieves are able to sell the parts to metal recyclers for up to $200, according to the article.

According to Brown, students should get their vehicles checked if there is a loud noise coming from the engine.

“If anybody has heard any suspicious behavior or heard some unusual noises at night they should contact the University Police,” Brown said.

She added that a crime bulletin will be sent out in the next few days with more information for students.

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