Catalytic converter thefts have skyrocketed across the country in the last two years. The same is true in Eden Prairie, where thefts were up 150% from 2020 to 2021.
Part 1 of this story explained what catalytic converters are and how Eden Prairie law enforcement is handling the situation.
During the last year, no arrests have been made in Eden Prairie of someone in the act of stealing a catalytic converter.
In this final report, EPLN talked to a repair shop owner, a scrapyard owner and Eden Prairie’s representative in the Minnesota State Senate to discuss the problems they face in slowing down these expensive and sometimes frightening crimes.
The scrapyard owner
What does a catalytic converter sales transaction look like? In Minnesota, it’s actually prescribed – to a point.
Under Minnesota law, someone wanting to sell a catalytic converter – or any scrap metal other than aluminum beverage cans – to a scrap dealer in Minnesota is required to present a valid driver’s license or other official photo identification, be photographed, have their car license plate recorded, and be paid by check.
Those records have to be kept for three years and be made available to law enforcement upon request.
Beyond that, dealers have to use their own instincts about whether to complete a sale, according to Mark Leder, co-owner of Leder Brothers Metal in Minneapolis.
“You ask questions and you make a decision based on what you see and hear,” Leder said.
There are no serial numbers and no connections to a specific car on a catalytic converter, he said. Most importantly, there is no way to prove or disprove ownership of a catalytic converter.
He compared the current situation to one dealers faced years ago when thefts of copper wiring from homes and construction sites were rampant.
“You ask them who they work for, what kind of work are they doing,” he said. “If it doesn’t sound right, you decide you don’t buy (it).”
That uncertainty is what led Leder Brothers to stop dealing in catalytic converters 18 months ago, Leder said.
“There are good people and there are unscrupulous people,” he said. “We made the decision not to buy them from individuals.”
Scrap dealers that do buy them will pay between $15 and $250 for a converter, depending on which kind of car it was installed on, Leder said.
Leder is skeptical about efforts to paint catalytic converters to identify them as potentially stolen.
Without being specific, Leder said, thieves will find a work-around.
Leder agrees with those that favor requiring manufacturers to connect owners to converters.
He thinks manufacturers eventually will need to apply an identification number to catalytic converters and even include that information on the sticker found on the driver side door jambs of most vehicles.
The repair shop
“There are no perfect solutions (to catalytic converters thefts) other than keeping your car in a locked garage and never going anywhere,” said John Cleveland, owner of CARspec, an Eden Prairie repair shop.
CARspec, specializing in Toyotas, repaired 36 Prius’ during the summer of 2020, which had catalytic converters removed from them.
Even though those repair numbers are down, Cleveland said that obtaining parts has become an issue.
“We’ve had a Toyota Tundra in the shop here waiting for a part for three months,” he said.
Prius models from 2004-2009 are especially vulnerable, partly because they have two catalytic converters, Leder said.
His shop sells shields for Prius’ that he admits are intended primarily to turn what is typically a 90-second theft into a 15-minute scramble trying to figure out how to work around the shield.
Other methods such as painting, etching or even welding rebar to the exhaust system are only temporary fixes, he said.
Cleveland said he likes the idea of requiring someone scrapping a catalytic converter to show proof of repair of the vehicle it came from or proof of purchase of another one to replace it.
But, he acknowledged, that would create problems for people who are legitimately scrapping a converter, as well as for scrap dealers.
“There is no good answer to this other than preventing scrap people from buying them,” he said. “But the vandalism will continue. They’ll get sold another way.”
Cleveland said he is a strong proponent of electric cars being the future of transportation – they don’t need catalytic converters.
“My wife has an electric car and I don’t have to worry about the catalytic converter getting stolen,” he said.
State Sen. Steve Cwodzinski (DFL-Eden Prairie) thinks the Legislature would be more apt to act on the problem of catalytic converter theft if they woke up one morning to hear the ear-splitting sound their car would make if the catalytic converter had been stolen.
“I’ve never started my car in the morning and had that sonic boom they describe,” he said.
But Cwodzinski, who represents most of Eden Prairie and portions of Minnetonka as District 48 senator, finds himself in a position where the majority party in the state senate has not allowed a hearing on a bill authored by Sen. John Marty (DFL-Roseville), of which he is a co-sponsor.
The proposed legislation would require proof of ownership before any sale, purchase or transport of a detached catalytic converter, and purchases would be restricted to licensed dealers.
Car owners removing their own converters could show evidence of ownership by marking the device with a vehicle identification number (VIN).
The bill puts more responsibility on scrapyard dealers and increases the criminal penalty for perpetrators, Cwodzinski said. Depending on the number of converters in someone’s possession, penalties could range from a misdemeanor for one to a felony for three or more.
The House passed that bill earlier this year but never got a hearing in the senate. The Legislature did provide $400,000 for a pilot program to label converters in high-target neighborhoods with non-removable stickers and barcodes linked to their VIN.
In an EPLN story in July 2021, Jeff Potts, executive director of the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association, called the contents of Marty’s bill “a small step forward, but … not what we’re hoping for.”
Requiring manufacturers to etch unique numbers on each catalytic converter at the factory would be ideal, Potts said.
Cwodzinski is sympathetic to that position. “Right now, it’s not a crime to have a catalytic converter, a (reciprocating saw) and tire jacks in the back seat of your car in full view and police can’t do anything about it,” he said.
“If public pressure and news organizations keep reporting this … and it happens to neighbors and friends of the (Republication committee) chair, we’ll get a hearing,” Cwodzinski said. “And it makes sense. It’s a good law.”
Short of that, personal experience might help, he said.
“I’m sure if some of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle woke up one morning to that sound, they might jump on board to having a hearing on this bill,” he said.
So, far there is no hearing set in the upcoming legislative session either, Cwodzinski said.
The next session of the Minnesota Legislature begins on Jan. 31 and continues into late May.
The vehicle owners
For now, police, lawmakers, legislators and scrapyard dealers all recommend essentially the same thing: vehicle owners need to take responsibility as best they can to dissuade thieves.
Eden Prairie Police Lt. Jess Irmiter suggested keeping cars in garages when possible and parking in well-lit and well-traveled areas when they can’t be. Security cameras can also be helpful to police, he said.
He also said Eden Prairie Police may conduct future events similar to the one they held in November 2021 that marked the catalytic converters on 24 vehicles, but none are currently scheduled.