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Gray’s bill aims to fight catalytic converter theft
Catalytic converter off car
Thieves are stealing catalytic converters in record numbers.

A bill by Assemblyman Adam Gray (D-Merced) to combat skyrocketing rates of catalytic converter theft has cleared its first legislative hurdle. The Assembly Transportation Committee approved AB 2682 on Monday with support coming from both Democrats and Republicans.

“Nearly a dozen bills have been introduced in the Legislature this year to address catalytic converter theft,” noted Gray. “AB 2682 is one of the few with bipartisan support.”

A catalytic converter is a component in a vehicle’s exhaust system that converts hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, and nitrogen oxides into less harmful water vapor and carbon dioxide. In order to operate, catalytic converters must contain certain precious metals like palladium, rhodium, and platinum to create the necessary chemical reaction.

While catalytic converter theft is not new, recent spikes in the value of precious metals track a spike in thefts.

“Five years ago, an ounce of rhodium cost $850 but now sells for more than $18,000,” said Gray. “Surging values for precious metals have driven up the incidence of catalytic convert theft by more than 1,000 percent. And it could get worse. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is expected to drive prices even higher for these precious metals with Russia producing almost 40% of the world’s mined palladium.”

According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB), catalytic converter thefts nationwide have increased more than tenfold in just three years and California leads the nation, accounting for more than 30 percent of all claims filed with State Farm. The NICB reported 1,298 catalytic converter thefts in 2018, increasing to 3,389 in 2019, and 14,433 in 2020.

Consistent with recommendations by law enforcement groups across the nation and the Bureau of Automotive Repair, Gray’s bill would require car dealers to permanently mark the catalytic converter of new and used cars with the vehicle’s VIN.

The vehicles most often targeted in California are the Toyota Prius, Honda Element, Honda Accord, Ford Econoline, Honda CRV, Ford F-250, Toyota Tundra, Toyota Sequoia, Ford Excursion, and the Toyota Tacoma.

“Thieves typically flip catalytic converters for $50 to $500 while victims can expect to pay anywhere from $1,000 to $4,000 to get their vehicle fixed,” said Gray. “Unless a thief is caught in the act red-handed, law enforcement officers have few resources to investigate this crime. Even when a suspect is arrested, many are never prosecuted.”

“Once a thief gets away with your catalytic converter, there is often little law enforcement can do to prove a suspect committed the theft,” said Gray. “By requiring these parts to be marked, a detached catalytic converter can be traced back to its original vehicle and legal ownership can be established. If the marking on the catalytic converter is removed, then possession of that catalytic converter is a crime – which will serve as a significant deterrent for any black-market repair shop or recycler to take possession of the stolen part.”

Gray’s bill is supported by the California District Attorneys Association, the California Police Chiefs Association, Valley Clean Air Now, AAA, and the Personal Insurance Federation of California. Merced County Sheriff Vern Warnke testified in support of Gray’s bill, noting he has received numerous complaints from local residents impacted by precious metal thefts.

The bill next heads to the Assembly Public Safety Committee. If approved, it will advance to the Appropriations Committee before receiving a full vote on the Floor in mid-May.