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New CA Bill Addresses Increase in Catalytic Converter Theft

Stolen catalytic converters are being sold on the black market in record numbers in California. A new bill in the General Assembly is aiming to crack down on this illegal activity by targeting dealers and retail sellers.

Assembly Bill (AB) 2682 was approved by The Assembly Transportation Committee on April 15, 2022. The measure has support from Democrats and Republicans. The bill would require car dealers to permanently mark the catalytic converter of new and used cars with the vehicle’s VIN (vehicle identification number). California vehicle dealers and retail sellers cannot remove, obscure, or change the converter vehicle identification number.

The Rising Value of Catalytic Converters

With the cost of catalytic converters, you wouldn’t be wrong to wonder if they are made of gold. They are not, but they are made from expensive rare earth metals such as platinum, palladium, and rhodium.

Five years ago, rhodium was about $850 per ounce. Today, the value is closer to $20,000. Palladium is currently valued at around $2,000 per ounce. The war in Ukraine is expected to drive up the price of rare minerals even higher. Russia supplies almost 40% of the world’s palladium. The West, including the U.S., has banned Russian flights and other transportation, making the supply of palladium dwindle in this country.

Black Market Catalytic Converters

Thieves easily steal these emissions-control devices off the exposed exhaust systems from parked vehicles. Theft is not limited to new cars and trucks. Thieves target older vehicles, too. Some thieves remove the metal to sell on the black market. Others sell lifted catalytic converters to repair shops. Recyclers will pay between $50 and $250 per converter.

Based on claims data from State Farm, catalytic converter theft grew by almost 300% from 2019 to 2020. California was No. 1 with more than 30% of all claims coming from this state. In this dubious ranking, Texas was in second place.

The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) reported 1,298 catalytic converter thefts in 2018. By 2020, NICB reporter 14,433.

California has no current requirements that identify specifically to which vehicle the catalytic converter belongs. The device must only be labeled or tagged with a CARB EO (Executive Order) number indicating the converter complies with California’s requirements for aftermarket converters. Aftermarket catalytic converters are warranted for 5 years or 50,0000 miles. A “check engine” light would be the only indicator that a black-market device was installed on a vehicle. And that’s only if the stolen catalytic converter is not installed into the same model car.

The Catalytic Converter’s Purpose

Every car and truck has catalytic converters installed into their exhaust system to reduce harmful car emissions. In 1973, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency enacted stricter exhaust emissions and mandated that all vehicles beginning with the model year 1975 be outfitted with catalytic converters. The device takes toxic compounds from the engine’s emissions and converts them to less harmful byproducts.

New car sellers say the life expectancy for a catalytic converter is the lifetime of the vehicle; however, that is not always the case. All cars and trucks need a working catalytic converter to pass the California smog check but not every catalytic converter is checked to belong to the vehicle.

Proposed Fines for Illegal Use of Catalytic Converters

If AB 2682 becomes law, dealerships and repair shops will be held responsible for every catalytic converter they install.

The bill currently levels the following penalties on car dealers or automotive repair shops convicted of a violation:

  • First violation incurs a fine of not less than $250
  • Second separate violation incurs a fine of not less than $500
  • Third or subsequent violation incurs a fine of not less than $1,000

The law would be enforced at every smog check station and auto repair. The service technician would validate that the inside of the vehicle catalytic converter is engraved with the correct VIN. Any California vehicle repair and auto mechanics that are licensed to install or replace catalytic converters are also responsible for validating the VIN of the car being serviced is the same vehicle identification number permanently engraved on the converter.

Strong Defense for Theft Charges

Anyone suspected of stealing catalytic converters can be charged with either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the value of the stolen product. Grand theft, a felony, covers thefts valued at more than $950. Below that threshold is petty theft, a misdemeanor.

The misdemeanor charge carries penalties of up to 6 months in jail and a maximum fine of $1,000. A felony charge can mean up to 3 years in jail and a fine of up to $10,000.

If you face any kind of theft charge in the Orange County area, count on the experienced legal team at Corrigan Welbourn Stokke, APLC. We are available night and day. Call (949) 251-0330 or reach us online.