Deputy Jaime Moran from the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department engraves the catalytic converter of a vehicle with a traceable number in City of Industry, California, on July 14, 2021. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images)
A California bill to deter catalytic converter theft would impose misdemeanors on those who have removed its VIN, or unique marking, and would make it illegal to possess three or more of those that have been altered.
Assembly Bill 1519, authored by Assemblywoman Jasmeet Bains (D-Delano), recently passed both houses of the Legislature this month and was presented to the governor on Sept. 22.
“Unless law enforcement catches a thief in the act, it is nearly impossible to establish [guilt] and prosecute thieves for this crime. AB 1519 encourages drivers to get their catalytic converters marked by imposing a misdemeanor for obfuscating the marking,” she said in a Sept. 13 Assembly analysis of the bill.
Insurance groups occasionally host public events where free etching for converters is offered. The Los Angeles Police Department held such an event in June, according to their website.
Since 1984, car manufacturers have been required to mark almost 20 different parts for new cars with a VIN number to deter theft, but catalytic converters remain off that list, according to Ms. Bains.
“Law enforcement need more tools to prosecute thieves once they are away from the crime scene, and drivers need to know that the cost of getting their catalytic converter marked is worth it and will effectively deter theft,” she said.
A brand new catalytic converter sits on a car lift at Johnny Franklin's Muffler in San Rafael, Calif., on July 11, 2022. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
According to the bill analysis, in 2021 there were about 1,600 converter thefts each month in the state.
Catalytic converters, which reduce toxic emissions from a vehicle’s exhaust, are valued for their precious metals as they are coated with rhodium—valued at over $14,000 per ounce—and palladium—at over $2,500 per ounce. Some car manufacturers, such as Toyota and Honda, can easily have their converters removed in minutes, according to the bill analysis.
The California Police Chiefs Association—representing municipal, school, and transportation police chiefs in the state—supported the bill in the analysis.
“Under current law, it is difficult for law enforcement to prove a crime has occurred, even when we find individuals with multiple detached catalytic converters with VIN numbers removed. AB 1519 will assist law enforcement in defending against this crime by making it clear: possession of a catalytic converter with a VIN number removed or altered is in violation,” they wrote.
While it is already a crime to steal catalytic converters under current law, AB 1519 will criminalize ownership of those that are stolen, which will further aid police who would no longer have to link stolen converters to victims to enforce the law.
No opposition was received on the bill which passed the Senate 39–0 on Sept. 13 and the Assembly 80–0 a day later.