If your car, truck or bus was robbed recently of its “cat” emissions control device, you’re not alone. Protecting yourself from catalytic converter theft isn’t easy.
“We have seen a significant increase during the pandemic,” said David Glawe, President and CEO of the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB). “It’s an opportunistic crime. As the value of the precious metals contained within the catalytic converters continues to increase, so do the number of thefts of these devices. There is a clear connection between times of crisis, limited resources, and disruption of the supply chain that drives investors towards these precious metals.”
Minnesota ranks third in converter thefts, behind California and Texas.
According to the Eden Prairie Police Department (EPPD), local cat thefts primarily occur in commercial areas and apartment complexes. The EPPD’s investigations division works with other agencies to identify and arrest offenders. The Hennepin County Attorney has developed a list of cars and vehicles most often targeted, as well as tips to avoid becoming a victim.
“Thieves hit specific parking lots, where they’ve cased out small groups of 2-5 cars,” says Kris Ichimura, the owner of World Auto Repair on Martin Drive. One of our customers had his converter stolen from his parking lot while he was at work during the day – in Eden Prairie.” Ichimura’s shop has replaced 15 converters for customers since the start of the year.
‘We focus on replacing stolen catalytic converters,” says Dan Mattila of Dan’s Complete Automotive in Blaine. “We’ve even replaced converters for one of our best customers. He came back a few weeks later to say they were stolen again.”
Protecting yourself from converter theft
Vehicle owners are trying solutions like CatClamp. CatClamp sells a cage of hardened steel cable that looks like an oversized bike lock. Catclamps range from $160 – $1000;. Depending on your insurer, you may get a discount. Local garages report delays of up to 90 days waiting for replacement converters. Garages are installing temporary test pipes so claims processors don’t have to finance a 90 day rental car. Other vendors like Cat Security sell metal plates that shield the cat.
Legislative regulation of scrap metal recyclers could help
Eighteen state legislatures are evaluating legislation to curb the cat theft problem. Minnesota has three bills pending in the Senate to regulate the acquisition of catalytic converters by scrap metal dealers.
Senator Steve Cwodzinski from Eden Prairie co-sponsors one of them. “I got interested a year ago when a friend in St. Cloud who runs a group home called to say that the converters for three of his buses had been taken. We’re trying to require the least paperwork for small businesses, and still do the job of disrupting the black market. Once you understand how widespread the crime is and you know even one person this has happened to, it’s a no-brainer. When you start a car without a converter, it sounds like a 777 landing on your roof.”
At least some garage owners agree. “I don’t buy cats from people I don’t know,” says Ichimura.
“Legislation to fight this problem is 20 years overdue,” said Mattila. “As a licensed hauler and shop owner, I document purchased parts and work orders to back up every job. Scrap metal recyclers should be required to do the same. Having said that, laws and rules are only as good as the businesses that follow them.”
The EPPD says the public can help by being aware of their surroundings and calling 911 right away if they see something suspicious. In the meantime, Eden Prairie engineers and entrepreneurs may see an opportunity to provide better, less expensive solutions for making cats harder to steal and making it easier to catch cat thieves.