AUBURN — Rare-metal thieves struck a Center Street car dealership this weekend, cutting emissions-control devices from under several cars and causing thousands of dollars in damage, police said.

Auburn Lt. Timothy Cougle said catalytic converters were stolen from an undisclosed number of cars in the Emerson Toyota lot at 900 Center St. sometime during the weekend. The theft was reported to police Monday.

Representatives from the car dealership declined to comment.

It’s the second theft of its kind in Auburn within a week. Thieves cut catalytic converters from four buses at Western Maine Transportation Services’ Merrow Road lot March 21.

Cougle said such thefts are common around the country and in Maine but had stopped locally over the winter.

“The last report we have of this happening was in December,” Cougle said. “We had quite a few happening then, and they were varied around the city. There was not one specific neighborhood targeted, but they eased up over the winter.”

Thieves simply crawl under parked cars to cut out the converters, which can contain small amounts of platinum, palladium or rhodium. They can be sold for about $100 but can cost up to $700 for car owners to replace.

“The bottom line is, they cost more for you to replace then the thief is making,” Cougle said.

Thieves target places with many cars left unattended and limited foot traffic. Cars in sales lots, shopping malls and park-and-ride lots are common targets.

Police are working with local scrap-metal dealers to help identify the thieves and have stepped up patrols around car lots.

Cougle suggested residents be careful about where they park and keep as close an eye on their cars as possible.

“If you can park in the front of the lot, where the car is more visible to the public, it’s going to be safer than if it’s way in the back,” he said.

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