MINNEAPOLIS – More than 100 local police departments and auto repair shops in the Twin Cities and beyond are part of a state pilot program designed to deter auto catalytic converter thefts, which have increased in recent years.
The initiative, led by the Minnesota Department of Commerce, offers free tags with serial numbers to Minnesotans who drive one of the top 15 cars. Mechanics etch the unique marking, which features a number and QR code, onto a catalytic converter with acid paint. It can then be recorded and traced by law enforcement.
Golden Valley Tire and Service was among the first, which has since grown to include dozens of other law enforcement agencies and companies. Jim Kirchner, deputy director of the service, said the labels have become increasingly popular over the past few months.
“My clients who have a particularly vulnerable vehicle that the state is looking after, it makes them happy to know that they can get some peace of mind for free,” Kirchner said.
But interest has spread beyond those who have qualified for the state’s free program, so the store has ordered some of its own from CatGuard — the same company the state uses — so that the people buy them and install them, whatever car they drive. Golden Valley Tire & Service sells them for less than $100.
The Minnesota Legislature appropriated $400,000 for the pilot project last year. The law requires scrap dealers to register parts bearing one of these markings.
“If someone tried to take your stolen converter to a junkyard for money, and they had to run the serial number, that would come back as a red flag,” Kirchner said.
The St. Louis Park Police has already shelled out its share of the publicly funded serial number. But the department will hold an event in a few weeks where the cars can get a special paint job. Lt. Mike Garland said serial numbers and other markings are a deterrent and the only real way to find parts once they’ve been stolen.
“As far as reuniting a converter with its owner and vehicle after it’s been stolen, if it doesn’t have some type of unique marking or identifier, it’s just something that’s going to be virtually impossible,” Garland said.
Shakopee Police recently announced that they have joined the state program and are offering the tags to people with vulnerable cars. Chaska Police are holding an event from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday and there will be 150 available for any vehicle, Chaska Officer Julie Janke said.
She noted two recent thefts of catalytic converters from a Jeep and a Ford Escape — neither car made the list of most targeted cars. Janke said the department first got 50 CatGuard stickers in May and ran out in 25 minutes.
“It’s all over,” Janke said of the thefts. “It’s just crazy.”
Click here to see which cities are participating.
The most targeted vehicles to steal catalytic converters are: