Auto shop

Bristol Auto Workshop, in partnership with the Police, offers free VIN engraving to help deter catalytic converter theft

Mechanics and managers at the Midas repair shop in Bristol hear sad stories of victims of catalytic converter thieves all the time.

People returning to their vehicles in the nearby supermarket plaza were told they had been hit in broad daylight after hearing the roar of their fractured exhaust systems, Midas service manager Dave Martel said on Friday. The thieves stung some car owners twice, Martel said.

To assist vehicle owners during a continued increase in converter thefts, Midas in Bristol is offering free engraving of exhaust system components with vehicle identification numbers. The session is set for Sunday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the shop, 33 Farmington Ave.


Thieves can be deterred if they see a traceable VIN number on a converter, Bristol Police Lt. Robert Osborne said, so police are helping to publicize the service.

“They reached out to us and I thought that was an option the community should be aware of,” Osborne said. “Anything that can possibly deter is something positive.”

Profiting from the precious metals contained in pollution-scrubbing devices, “cat thieves” have caused untold expense and wasted time for vehicle owners throughout Connecticut and the country. Typically, victims pay at least a $500 insurance deductible for replacement, but those with older, high-mileage cars and trucks that don’t have the necessary coverage sometimes have to choose between throwing the vehicle and repairs that can easily exceed $1,000.

Midas store manager Anthony Paparello said a recent robbery at Kids’ Wheels in Bristol helped trigger the free engraving session. Converter thieves hit five vehicles belonging to the company, which transports special education students and other children, Paparello said. A representative for Kids’ Wheels could not be reached.

Paparello said he’s also heard of similar free VIN etching in Arizona and California. In April, Los Angeles police etched VIN numbers on hundreds of vehicles, according to a report by the Los Angeles Times – Drivers have VINs etched on catalytic converters in case of theft – Los Angeles Times (latimes.com). The grant-funded service was intended to help track parts if they were stolen.

Converters contain precious metals such as palladium, platinum and rhodium and can be cut in less than five minutes. Certain vehicles, such as Toyota Prius hybrids, are targeted more often because they emit fewer toxins, so converters are cleaner and more valuable.

Converter thefts jumped 325% in 2020 and the continued rise has followed rising precious metal prices, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau. On Friday, platinum was valued at $895 an ounce, palladium at $2,088 and rhodium at $12,850, according to kitco.com. Recyclers pay up to $250 per converter, reports the NICB.

Along with the free engraving, which will take 15 to 20 minutes per vehicle, Midas staff in Bristol will talk to people about converter theft and how to avoid falling victim, Martel said.

“We see how it affects customers’ lives,” he said.

Thieves don’t care to be careful, so they sometimes cut or damage other parts, which can increase repair bills and wait times for replacement parts, Martel said. Some customers have been hit twice, he said.

Clashes between converter thieves, car owners and police have also resulted in serious injuries, such as the Milford man who needed 300 stitches last month after a thief got cut his face with a power tool and the Farmington policeman who was crushed between his cruiser and a getaway car in September.

Governor Ned Lamont signed a bill in May designed to curb the illicit trade in stolen converters. The law prohibits recyclers and scrap yards from receiving converters not attached to vehicles. The law also strengthens record-keeping requirements and requires scrap dealers to submit all converter sales information weekly to the state police.

[email protected]édiact.com