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Painting Catalytic Converters: Does It Work?

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Bruce Bekkerus, owner of A-1 Automotive and Transmission Service in Moorhead, Minn. said this past winter was the worst.

It felt like every day another vehicle was rolling in, in need of a catalytic converter replacement as the city of Moorhead, like many throughout the country, was hit hard by the rampant theft of the valuable auto part.

“It was insanity. Mostly after Christmas for two months, it was just insane,” he said.  

As a result the Moorhead police, with the help of a local auto parts store, went to Bekkerus and a dozen other auto service facilities in the city with a can of paint and a request.

Their idea: put some paint on customers’ catalytic converters as they come through for service. The goal: deter thieves from taking the converters and selling them. Theoretically with the marking, auto parts stores and scrapyards aren’t supposed to buy them.

So Bekkerus’ staff has put a line of paint on a portion of the vehicles they see, mostly big Ford trucks, which Bekkerus has seen hit the hardest in his area. They’ll also mark any of the large delivery vehicles and busses that come through, which have been common customers in the recent months looking for a new catalytic converter. He’s continuing to bring in his shops’ vehicles at night for precaution as well.  

“I’m not taking chances. Any vehicle that’s raised off the ground is vulnerable,” he said.

Bekkerus said the thefts have “calmed down” in recent months, but he’s skeptical that the paint is making much of a difference. Police have said the scrapyards won't buy marked catalytic converters, but Bekkerus had one too many experiences with salvage yards buying parts even after he alerted them that a particular part had been stolen from them and they should hold off from purchasing it if any come through

“I know that the people that buy the catalytics will buy them no matter what and unfortunately that’s what’s driving this,” he said.

In an ideal world, Bekkerus said the converters, and other auto parts, should have VIN numbers etched in them. That would create the accountability needed, but he doesn't see that happening. 

What has frustrated Bekkerus the most is who the thefts are affecting. The people being hit the hardest haven’t been individuals, but small businesses and health centers. In the middle of an already trying economic time, the extra $600 to $4000 that a replacement will cost, depending on the vehicle, at Bekkerus’ shop is quite the expense. Especially when he’s seen many of the same vehicles come in multiple times.

“We have a company that works with handicapped people, 13 busses, thieves stole all of them, and even some of them a second time,” Bekkerus said. “Most of the vehicles that are being targeted are fleet vehicles, so local businesses.”

So while the paint might not have widespread impact, if it keeps one or two vehicles from the theft, then it’s worth it. Meanwhile, Bekkerus has his fingers crossed that thefts don’t climb back up again.

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