MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A piece of metal underneath your car is becoming more valuable to thieves.

Police say catalytic converter thefts are spiking, and the crime could end up costing drivers thousands.

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More than 300 have been stolen this year in St. Paul from Jan. 1 to Feb 15. That’s roughly six per day. In Minneapolis, police said there have been at least 112 catalytic converters stolen this year through Feb. 15 — an increase of 13% over last year. During the same time span in 2020, police said there were 103 cases.

Twenty-plus years living on St. Paul’s east side, but it’s only recently that Lezlie Johnson says she now feels “paranoid.”

“I don’t trust anybody anymore. I assume everyone’s out there to steal something now,” Johnson said.

Her catalytic converter was stolen a few months ago outside her home, as her car was parked under a street light. She said she heard a loud scraping sound and saw a truck parked near her car. She assumed the noise was them scraping frost off a window. She even checked her car later and said it looked just fine.

“I went to go to work the next day, my car sounded like it was gonna blow up,” Johnson said.

Her catalytic converter was stolen. After getting it repaired, the thieves struck again 11 days later.

(credit: CBS)

“And it was 30 below outside. I assumed they wouldn’t be out stealing when it was that cold, but I was wrong,” she said.

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The price tag to replace it is $3,200. Luckily, she only had to pay a $250 deductible through her insurance.

Thieves steal catalytic converters because they’re filled with precious metals like platinum and palladium. They then sell them for a couple hundred bucks.

The hassle of this rising crime is why State Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, has introduced a bill that would make it illegal to possess a used catalytic convertor unless you can prove ownership. And scrap yards would only be allowed to buy them from legitimate businesses like auto repair shops or those who can prove ownership.

“We’ve talked to several different police departments and they seem to think this would have a chance of success,” Sen. Marty said. “Several departments have told us they’ve let people go because there’s nothing they could do. They see the car with several converters, person says they own them and the police let them go, and the ‘owner’ then gets to go and sell those stolen converters.”

WCCO talked with an employee of a metal recycling plant in the Twin Cities that takes in catalytic converters. The employee said the bill is a good first step, but it doesn’t eliminate the black market sales that happen on websites like Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace.

Sen. Marty said by making it illegal to possess the used car part without proof of ownership, police could then make arrests by targeting people using websites to sell or buy them.

“This is not the problem that we pass a bill and it’s gonna fix it, but I think it could significantly cut into it,” Marty said.

He’s working to get the bill a hearing at the Capitol, and says it has bi-partisan support.

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Cars can still run without a catalytic converter, but it’s not advised. Johnson’s car is still at the shop. She said it won’t be ready until April because the catalytic converters and sensors are on back order. She’s hopeful the bill gets passed.

Jeff Wagner