Drivers worried about keeping their vehicles secure amid a recent spike in catalytic converter thefts do have some options, according to State Police.

Since there's no way to trace the stolen part back to a vehicle or owner, "as is," motorists can etch or engrave some identifying information onto the converter as a potential deterrent, State Police Detective Sgt. Cory Rodriguez said.

Make your mark

Marking the part with at least the last eight digits of the vehicle identification number (VIN) can help make it possible to trace the part back to its owner if it's ever stolen and then recovered.

A VIN is a unique 17-character code assigned to every motor vehicle when it's manufactured.

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Another choice for etching or tagging would be the vehicle's license plate number and state, so that it could be potentially traced back to where the part was taken from.

There's also the idea that a brightly tagged part, bearing such information, might make someone reconsider before stealing it to begin with.

New Jersey police are considering coordinated efforts similar to other states, like Minnesota, where law enforcement has been trying to help residents safeguard against such expensive damage, he continued.

Other anti-theft advice

There are also anti-theft devices, such as cages or clamps, available for purchase which are aimed at making the process of stealing the part a bit more challenging.

Getting back to basics, cars should be parked off the street whenever possible in a well-lit area, Rodriguez said.

A Nest camera set up to monitor a driveway in Monmouth County recently captured just how quickly the part can be stolen.

Thieves stole catalytic converters from 20 school buses in at least two school districts earlier this month.

In Burlington County, 12 of the extremely valuable auto parts were cut and taken from buses in Westampton Township over a weekend, according to police, who also shared surveillance video from the heist.

Converters were also cut from eight buses used by South Orange-Maplewood schools following the severe damages of Ida, a spokesperson for the district previously confirmed.

How big a problem?

The actual number of catalytic converter thefts statewide has been difficult to pinpoint, as the crime is not always reported to local police, according to State Police.

Many vehicle owners also are under-insured against the damages, so incidents don't get properly recorded by insurance companies, either.

Each catalytic converter contains precious metals like platinum, palladium and rhodium, which have been soaring in value amid higher demand from the automotive industry.

Such thefts led to the creation of the North Hudson Catalytic Converter Task Force over the summer.

The task force includes police in Union City, North Bergen, Weehawken and West New York as well as the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office.

Under current state law, catalytic converter thieves face a disorderly persons offense for their first or second violation and fourth-degree felony charges for subsequent offenses, as reported by the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries in July.

A conviction of a disorderly persons offense carries up to six months’ jail time and a $1,000 fine, while convictions of a fourth-degree felony can result in up to 18 months in prison and fines of up to $10,000.

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