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Catalytic Converter Thefts on the Rise

Catalytic Converter Thefts on the Rise 

Legislators are attempting to address the growing issue of catalytic converter theft with a trio of new laws.

The converters, used to scrub pollutants from vehicle emissions, contain rare metals, including platinum, palladium and rhodium. As metal prices have appreciated so have the number and frequency of thefts. Older Toyota Priuses and Honda hybrids are favorite targets for catalytic converter thieves, but other makes and models are also vulnerable. 

Catalytic converter theft is increasing nationwide, with the number of incidents in California higher than in other states. Research conducted by the National Insurance Crime Bureau found that the number of reported catalytic converter thefts increased from 1,298 in 2018 to 52,206 in 2021, and 37 percent of those thefts occurred in California, not coincidentally, the biggest market for hybrid cars like the Prius.

Last month, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed three new laws aimed at curbing thefts.

  • AB-1653 adds theft of vehicle parts to the California Highway Patrol’s Regional Property Crimes Task Force priority list.
  • SB 1087 requires anyone selling a catalytic converter to prove it came from their own vehicle. Fines for breaking the law start at $1,000. 
  • AB 1740 requires the purchaser of a catalytic converter to document the year, make, model, and VIN number of the car that the converter came from.

A fourth bill that would have required vehicle manufacturers and dealerships to ensure that the VIN number is engraved on each vehicle’s catalytic converter, was opposed by the automotive industry and failed to pass.

Since catalytic converter theft tends to be the work of organized crime, and illegal chop shops generally handle the sale of the parts, it’s unclear how effective any of the new laws will be, but observers say it’s a start.

The best way to prevent catalytic converter theft is to park vulnerable vehicles off the street, preferably in a garage or behind gates at night, or at least back the vehicle into the driveway, as close to the house as possible.

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