When’s the last time you looked at your vehicle’s engine? There might be something missing. Or you may want to check on it more regularly.
Sgt. Mike Tvrdik with the Douglas County Sheriff's Office said these thefts have come up as a trend across Minnesota, not just in the Alexandria area. Dan Thelen, owner of Thelen Auto Sales in Alexandria, said this has been an ongoing problem at his business for years.
Catalytic converters, which are connected to vehicle exhaust systems, contain precious metals that are selling at higher rates than usual.
Mark Pitcher isn’t surprised to see these thefts becoming more commonplace. The sale point for precious metals is the highest price he’s seen in the 17 years he’s owned Alex Exhaust.
Tvrdik agreed, saying that this link between stolen items and increased financial gain isn’t unusual. If copper prices were higher, he guessed the sheriff’s office would be receiving more calls about thefts of copper wiring and tubing out of houses or from construction areas.
“We’ve seen those in the past, those trends,” Tvrdik said. “If they know the prices are high for certain things, that’s what they’re going to look for and take.”
Multiple catalytic converters were stolen from Thelen Auto Sales the weekend after Christmas, but Thelen said that it wasn’t the first time and most likely wouldn’t be the last.
Thieves can take these converters to metal recycling facilities, the nearest location to Alexandria being Northern Metal Recycling in Glenwood. Once the recycling plant purchases the car part, they melt it down to the core metals. Staff at Northern Metal Recycling declined to comment for this article.
Pitcher said he’s only heard of one thief getting caught because the individual tried to bring a whole pile to the recycling plant. If anyone brings in one or two though, Pitcher said it would be easy to get away with it.
“It’s a crime of opportunity,” Tvrdik said. “People are going after it because those prices are up.”
Tvrdik added that these cases are much more difficult to prosecute because it’s hard to prove that a universal catalytic converter came from a specific theft.
Auto Value in Alexandria orders catalytic converters on an individual need basis because a vehicle can last its entire lifetime without needing a replacement. Occasionally, other parts of the engine malfunction and cause the converters to get plugged up. The cost of getting a new converter can be anywhere between $500 and $1,500.
In most cases, converters can be used in multiple years and models of a vehicle. For example, a converter in a 2000 Chevy pickup truck could look identical to one from a 2020 model.
“That can be a pretty steep obstacle to climb,” Tvrdik said.