The Berkeley Police Department, or BPD, and Argonaut Garage will host a free catalytic converter etching event this weekend in response to unprecedented rates of catalytic converter theft in the last three years.
Registered car owners of Berkeley will be able to get their vehicle identification number, or VIN, engraved on their catalytic converters Saturday to prevent theft, according to Argonaut Garage owner Jason Simms. The etching offers a sense of protection to car owners and gives the BPD the ability to connect someone to a crime, as the engraved converter can be traced to a specific vehicle.
The event is the result of nearly 10 months of legislation, planning and fundraising by an Argonaut Garage customer and BPD. Argonaut Garage employees are volunteering their time Saturday to help with the labor and BPD is providing etching machines for the event.
“There’s a market for the metal contained in the catalytic converters,” said District 4 Councilmember Kate Harrison. “They are being stolen by syndicates and people are selling them; we want to stop it at the shop level. It’s very hard to catch the person in the act because you can’t have police everywhere, as it largely happens at night. By identifying the vehicle identification number on the converter, we can see where it ends up and then trace it back to how these materials were stolen.”
Hybrid vehicles such as Priuses are a prime target for catalytic converter theft, Simms said. This is because hybrids contain higher levels of precious metals like platinum, palladium and rhodium, which make them run cleaner.
Catalytic converter theft also runs high due to easy access, especially in cars like 4Runners that sit higher off the ground, according to The Model Garage business manager Doreen VanDenBaard.
VanDenBaard explained the inefficiencies of etching, as people stealing the item won’t be looking for the engraved VIN. Additionally, some shops that resell catalytic converters may not care if the part was originally acquired through theft, making it highly unlikely that car owners will be reunited with their catalytic converters.
“Ultimately (we’re) trying to give people some peace of mind that maybe their car won’t be the next victim, that is really all we can do,” Simms said. “And maybe holding hands through that process to make your life a little less stressful in general.”
Customers at Argonaut Garage expressed frustration at having their converters repeatedly stolen or having to get them replaced in more than one vehicle, Simms added. The expensive car part is often not covered by insurance companies, forcing customers to pay completely out of pocket.
Many times, people are left without their vehicles for an extended period of time. Because of theft, cars are sometimes rendered totaled and the cost of the repair can be more expensive than the price of the actual car. Honda owners who have had their cars for more than 20 years and planned to drive their cars for another 20 years are now having to send their cars to the scrap yard, Simms said.
“Honestly, the people in the neighborhood, in the community are supporting me by bringing their cars to my shop,” Simms said. “And so being able to give back to them in this way, and to make that connection with BPD is important. It’s a good way to get our name out, we do all sorts of other community involved stuff, this is just another way to do that.”