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It could soon be harder to sell used catalytic converters in Minneapolis

As thefts of catalytic converters surge, Council Member Andrew Johnson is proposing to prohibit sales of used catalytic converters by anyone other than “bona fide” auto shops. 

A three-way catalytic converter on a 1996 Dodge Ram.
A three-way catalytic converter on a 1996 Dodge Ram.

With catalytic converter thefts surging across the nation, Minneapolis is the next city crafting a policy specifically aimed at slowing down those bent on stealing the valuable auto parts. 

Under an ordinance proposed by City Council Member Andrew Johnson, sales of any used catalytic converters not attached to a vehicle could only be carried out by “bona fide” auto shops in Minneapolis — licensed repair shops and dealers that follow requirements to document any work. 

People steal catalytic converters, a critical part of a vehicle’s exhaust system that hangs from a car’s undercarriage — because they contain valuable metals like platinum, palladium and rhodium. “There’s not really a good way of catching people in the act, and it is not a matter of putting more officers on the street,” said Johnson. The best way to stop the problem, he said, is on the demand side.

It costs thousands of dollars to replace a catalytic converter. And once removed from a car, it’s hard for law enforcement agencies to track it back to a specific vehicle, making theft arrests nearly impossible. “You start walking down that street with a catalytic converter — if you get stopped [by police], that’s not a crime,” said Johnson.

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After stealing a catalytic converter, thieves can often sell them for hundreds of dollars. Since the pandemic started, such thefts have skyrocketed around the country. 

In Minneapolis, there were 124 reports of catalytic converters thefts in 2019, according to the Minneapolis Police Department. In 2020, that number increased to 1,076, and the city is on pace to surpass that total this year: there have been 1,000 thefts of catalytic converters reported so far in 2021. 

City Council Member Andrew Johnson
MinnPost file photo by Terry Gydesen
City Council Member Andrew Johnson
Johnson sees the thefts as more of an economic issue than a safety one. Each victim has to deal with the loss of an operating vehicle — and cost of getting a new catalytic converter, which can often run in the thousands of dollars. 

Johnson said he began looking into a catalytic converter policy before thefts spiked, beginning in 2019. “It’s important for cities to act when we are not seeing that action happening at the state level,” he said. 

This year, state lawmakers did agree to spend $400,000 on spray paint and etching tools, offering the material to cities with high rates of reported catalytic converter thefts. The tools are used to make identifying marks that would indicate the catalytic converter is stolen.  

But the law does not specifically target those in possession of catalytic converters that are not attached to a car. “Certainly, it would be our preference to see a statewide law that is similar to this ordinance,” said Johnson of his proposal. 

The city’s Business, Inspections, Housing & Zoning (BIHZ) Committee discussed the ordinance last month and will hold a public hearing on the matter on Oct. 26.