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Lakeville’s Daniel Zuniga’s catalytic converter was stolen while his car was disabled along I-35E and he was away shopping for a new tire. When he returned to start his car, it sounded like a “motorcycle’ he said. The Eagan Police Department issued crime alert this week noting an increase in catalytic converter thefts.

Police department issues alert

The Eagan Police Department has issued a crime alert following a recent increase in catalytic converter thefts in the city.

September is on track to have the largest number of catalytic converter thefts citywide. As of Sept. 8, there were 12 reported, up from five thefts in April and May. The highest total was in July with 20.

A catalytic converter is part of a vehicle’s exhaust system and contains platinum and other precious metals. It’s located underneath a vehicle and is often taken by sawing it off.

This type of theft is challenging to investigate.

“They’re hard to track down,” said Aaron Machtemes, Eagan patrol officer. “There’s some indication that people are actually taking them and mining the platinum themselves and taking them to precious metal dealers. Scrap yards take them on a regular basis from auto shops, so there’s legitimate business need there.”

Thieves often target Honda vehicles and Toyota Priuses.

The thefts can occur in a matter of minutes.

Daniel Zuniga of Lakeville was on his way to Stillwater along I-35E recently when his vehicle got a flat. He pulled over on the highway and soon realized he didn’t have a spare.

He went to buy a new one thanks to a ride from a co-worker, but when he returned he noticed something else was wrong.

“When I turned it on, the vehicle sounded like a motorcycle,” Zuniga said. “The next day I took it to a mechanic, he knew right away. He said they have had like 15 cases like this already.”

His catalytic converter was gone.

“It looks like someone just did two straight cuts and took it off,” Zuniga said.

Insurance often doesn’t cover the loss. It cost $1,500 for Zuniga to replace it. The removal can often damage other components of the vehicle.

He said he did search via social media and found several people selling catalytic converters online.

“I don’t know if it’s illegal to buy them or not, but I don’t want to be part of it,” Zuniga said. “Just Google it, you’re going to see tons of them. It was frustrating, but my wife would say “Nothing bad happened to you and that’s what matters.’”

To combat the thefts, Eagan’s investigations unit rigged up bait cars and deployed them throughout the city. If the catalytic converter is tampered with in any way, cameras will capture the suspects’ image and officers will be dispatched the area.

The city is also asking the public’s help in reporting any suspicious behavior related to these thefts.

Suspicious behavior includes: a person working under a vehicle in a parking lot; A person with an electric saw or grinder appearing to work on a vehicle; cutting or grinding noises while the person is under a car; or working on vehicles in parking lots such as grocery stores, apartment buildings, or other public areas.

“There’s no one in a Walmart parking lot fixing up their car,” Machtemes said. “They’re mostly up to no good. If they have a saw with them, they’re up to no good. It happens in business parking lots, apartment parking lots. Even people parked on the side of the highway.”

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