Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Sunday that he signed legislation to crack down on rampant vehicle catalytic converter theft by making it illegal for recyclers to buy the valuable car part from anyone other than the legal owner or a licensed dealer.
Lawmakers this year introduced a suite of bills to address an alarming increase in brazen thefts of catalytic converters, the anti-pollution devices in cars that contain valuable metals such as rhodium, platinum and palladium. The often untraceable parts are easy to saw off from a vehicle, making them an attractive target for those hoping to make a quick buck at a scrap yard.
The two new laws — Senate Bill 1087, by state Sen. Lena Gonzalez (D-Long Beach), and Assembly Bill 1740, by Assembly member Al Muratsuchi (D-Rolling Hills Estates) — will increase penalties for buyers who fail to certify that a catalytic converter wasn't stolen.
The laws should make it more difficult for thieves to find a marketplace for the parts. Scrap metal recyclers and junk dealers will have to document how they are buying catalytic converters and from whom, as a way to ensure they're doing business only with owners and qualified sellers.
"We're going to get to the root cause, at least one of the root causes, in this crime. And that's those brokers and those middlemen, who pay top dollar for stolen parts. It will now be illegal in California to buy catalytic converters from anyone other than licensed auto dismantlers or dealers," Newsom said in a video statement. "You take away the market for stolen goods, you can help cut down on stealing."
States across the country have introduced new policies to combat the skyrocketing popularity of catalytic converter theft, worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic when car usage decreased and the value of certain metals increased.
The National Insurance Crime Bureau reported an increase from 1,298 catalytic converter thefts in 2018 to 14,433 in 2020. California reported 18,026 catalytic converter thefts in 2021, according to the background check company BeenVerified.
A stolen catalytic converter can generate $25 to $500, according to a 2021 report by the Congressional Research Service, and could cost an owner $3,000 to replace the part. Among the most targeted vehicle types and models are the Ford F-Series, Honda Accords and Toyota Priuses.
The new laws will require a traceable method of payment for the catalytic converters, and more stringent record keeping of purchases, including detailed information on the businesses selling the parts and the vehicles that they were taken from.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.