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A sensible approach to the growing problem of catalytic converter theft

No legislation will completely eliminate the problem, but making it more difficult for thieves to transport and sell stolen catalytic converters will help.

Theft of catalytic converters from cars is a problem that few people were familiar with until recently. But the problem is large and growing drastically. In January, St. Paul reported more than twice as many converter thefts as they saw a year earlier, on top of similar increases in each of the last few years.

State Sen. John Marty
State Sen. John Marty
The problem is growing because it is a quick way to obtain large amounts of cash. With a reciprocating saw, a thief can slip under a parked car and cut off a catalytic converter in a couple of minutes or less. The converters contain several precious metals, giving them a market value that often reaches $200-$300 from a scrap buyer. Unfortunately, for the car owner, replacement costs often exceed $2,000-$3,000.

Last year, I introduced legislation to prevent such thefts. Although I was not given a hearing on the legislation, I continued working on the issue, discussing it with law enforcement, businesses, legislative colleagues, and an ever-increasing number of victims. Now we are trying again to get at the problem.

No identifying marks on converters

This is a difficult issue to address because there are no identifying marks or serial numbers on converters that enable prosecutors to link specific converters to specific cars. The ease of removing converters is so great that thieves can strike even in parking lots and cars parked on the street in broad daylight.

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Police report finding cars with three or four used converters in the back seat, but they cannot prove that the converters were stolen, so there is nothing they can do, and the “owner” of those converters can go and sell them with no consequence.

After multiple revisions we are taking a more targeted approach, proposing a law that would prohibit anyone other than a licensed scrap metal dealer from buying used converters. Scrap dealers would be prohibited from buying catalytic converters from anyone other than a bona fide auto repair or auto recycling business. Individuals who have used converters that they took off their own cars would be able to sell them, but only if they provide proof of legitimate removal to the scrap dealer.

In addition, it would be unlawful for an individual to possess a used catalytic converter that is not attached to a car, unless the owner has documentation that the converter belongs to them. This would enable law enforcement to seize stolen converters, so that victims of converter theft who report the theft could work with police to show that the converters were stolen.

Scrap dealers couldn’t pay with cash

Also, our legislation would prohibit scrap dealers from paying for used converters with cash. They would have to send a check or deposit the money in the seller’s bank account after a five-day holding period.

I look forward to the give and take of a legislative hearing to give all points of view a chance to be heard and to help refine the legislation so that it makes a difference in preventing this growing and persistent problem. No legislation will completely eliminate the problem, but making it more difficult for thieves to transport and sell stolen catalytic converters will help. It’s time for the Legislature to step up and prevent these crimes.

John Marty, DFL-Roseville, is a state senator. 


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