University of Maine police are investigating the thefts of car parts from students’ vehicles on the Orono campus.

University Police Chief Ronald Lacroix told WLBZ-TV Friday that thieves stole catalytic converters out of at least nine cars parked in campus parking lots over the weekend, and reports are still coming in.

Officials believe the thieves went underneath older-model cars from the years 1998-2004 and sawed the parts out of the vehicles. They were reportedly Hondas, Acuras and Chevrolets.

Thieves target the converters, which are specialized portions of a car’s exhaust system, because they contain small amounts of precious metals such as platinum, palladium and rhodium – which are chemically related and are members of the platinum group – that can be sold at scrapyards.

Typical converters can sell for between $10 or $20 and more than $100, depending on how much of the precious material is inside, said Brandon Lerman, operations manager at E. Perry Iron, a Portland metal recycling company.

Although each of the precious metals inside the converter still sells for between $600 and nearly $1,000 per ounce, those prices were even higher in pre-recession years, before about 2007. The decline is in large part because of the economic slowdown in China that has put downward pressure on many metal prices.

The converter is a legally required piece of equipment that converts noxious hydrocarbon fumes into less harmful substances that are then emitted from the tailpipe.

In the Portland area, two such thefts have been reported in the last week, according to Yarmouth police.

Both of those cases, on Oct. 23 and Oct. 24, focused on early-model Hondas, said Yarmouth police Lt. Dean Perry. Several other police departments in southern Maine said that such thefts seem to come in waves, but they had not received any reports recently.

The replacement of the converters can be a costly repair, ranging from several hundred dollars to over $1,000, depending on the vehicle.

Matt Byrne can be contacted at 791-6303 or at:

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