State bill aims to stop catalytic converter theft

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In less than a minute, a San Diego auto repair owner demonstrated Friday how quickly a thief can detach a catalytic converter, illustrating the problem behind the legislation to stop thefts.

A state bill introduced by State Sen. Brian Jones, R-Santee, aims to stem theft of catalytic converters, which have increased dramatically in San Diego County. Senate Bill 919, introduced last month, would require devices to be marked with a vehicle identification number, tighten sales procedures and increase fines for theft.

“The bottom line is that California is number one in the country for catalytic converter thefts,” Jones said at a Friday press conference at Barrio Auto Repair in San Diego. “Last year, over 18,000 catalytic converters were stolen in California. And we represent 30% of insurance claims filed nationally, and we need to get that under control.

Catalytic converters are popular because they use the precious metals rhodium, palladium and platinum to filter car exhaust. As the prices of these metals have risen more than the price of gold, the devices have become more important targets for theft.

Over the past year, more than 2,000 catalytic converters were stolen from cars in San Diego, a 423 percent increase from the previous year, District Attorney Summer Stephan said.

Most catalytic converters cost more than $950, so stealing them can be prosecuted as a felony under state law, Stephan said. Although the crime is common, she said few cases are referred to her office for prosecution because it is so difficult to prove unless the thief is caught in the act.

“That’s the gap, and we’re trying to close the gap by adding an ID number requirement,” she said.

Under the bill, new and used vehicle dealers would be required to permanently mark the vehicle identification number, or VIN, on the catalytic converter of any vehicle before selling it.

“It would create a way to identify the catalytic converter that is illegally removed from a car,” matching it to the vehicle it was stolen from, Jones said.

State Sen. Brian Jones, R-Santee, shows off a catalytic converter to members of the media at the Barrio Auto Service in Sherman Heights Friday, March 18, 2022.

(Kristian Carreon/For the San Diego Union-Tribune)

Metal recyclers would only be allowed to purchase catalytic converters with clearly visible, unforged VIN numbers, and would be required to keep detailed vendor records and make those records available to law enforcement, under Bill.

“It would discourage the current practice of selling and buying catalytic converters and reduce the easy money thieves are currently making by stealing these items,” Jones said.

The bill would increase fines for catalytic converter theft to $1,000 for the first offense, $2,000 for the second and $4,000 for the third or subsequent offenses.

It also adds provisions to the vehicle code stating that law enforcement officers do not need to witness the theft to make an arrest. They can instead establish probable cause if they find a suspect with an altered or damaged catalytic converter or one that bears markings not associated with the person’s vehicle, or if the person has multiple catalytic converters in their possession or commonly used tools. to disable the devices.

In February, the Carlsbad City Council unanimously passed the county’s first catalytic converter law.

Under the new law, it is illegal for anyone other than a primary recycler to own a catalytic converter without valid proof of ownership.
Valid proof must include the license plate number and identification number of the vehicle from which the part was removed, the name, address and
vehicle owner’s phone number, the vehicle owner’s signature authorizing the removal, and the current part owner’s name, address and phone number.

A used catalytic converter can sell for around $250 at a scrap yard, but the cost to replace it can be several times that, officials said.

“The cost to the vehicle owner can be thousands of dollars in parts and repair costs, not to mention other expenses such as time lost to work or arranging alternate transportation. “Jones said.

Owners of existing vehicles can have their catalytic converters engraved with their VIN number, officials said, but only a few stores have the tools to do so now, Jones said. Chula Vista Police Chief Roxana Kennedy said her department purchased engraving equipment to prevent item theft, which has soared 700% over the past year in Chula Vista, even more than the county average.

Car owners can also purchase shields to protect their vehicles and deter thieves, although these can be expensive to install.

Although protecting catalytic converters can be complicated and expensive, they are easy to steal, demonstrated Jorge Medina, owner of Barrio Auto Repair. Using a handheld reciprocating saw, he cut the device off a car in his shop in 30 seconds on Friday.

“Es muy rapido,” he said. “In less than a minute, they can take that.”

Jones said his legislation is one of a dozen anti-theft bills making their way through the state legislature.

“We believe ours is the most comprehensive as it deals with identification, recycling and penalties and fines,” he said.

The bill is due to be heard by the Senate Business, Professions, and Economic Development Committee on April 4.

Writer Phil Diehl contributed to this report.

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