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Catalytic Converter Thieves Feel New Legal Pressure

A new state law now in effect will hopefully make it that much easier for law enforcement to throw the book at catalytic converter thieves.

According to the San Francisco Standard, catalytic converter thefts are on the rise in Santa Clara. In 2022, the City saw 297 catalytic converter thefts. In 2021, there were 258 thefts. There were just 188 in 2020.

In Sunnyvale last August, a man was shot while trying to stop thieves from taking the catalytic converter from under his vehicle.


Under AB 641, it will make it easier for police officers to charge people with catalytic converter theft. The law closes a loophole, which previously required proof of a victim before police or other members of law enforcement could file charges. Now, a catalytic converter does not need to be traced back to a victim for charges to be filed.

“It is often difficult for law enforcement to prove a crime has occurred when we find individuals with multiple detached catalytic converters, which is why AB 641 is so important,” said Chief Alexander Gammelgard, the President of the California Police Chiefs Association. “With this new law going into effect, law enforcement will have a critical tool towards proving a crime has occurred in order to successfully combat the rampant theft of these parts.”

According to AB 641, if a person is caught with nine or more catalytic converters without the proper paperwork, they will face illegal automobile dismantling charges. It’s a misdemeanor that includes fines of $250 to $1,000 per offense.

Legal auto dismantlers can avoid the charges by registering with the state. Meanwhile, businesses with a legitimate reason to have catalytic converters on hand, such as repair shops, will not need to register.

AB 641 was proposed by Assembly Member Vince Fong (32nd District).

“Thieves continue to steal catalytic converters while victims foot the bill and must wait for months on end for repairs. Law enforcement needs more tools to hold thieves accountable and protect California motorists,” stated Fong. “This bill will help discourage theft, increase penalties on criminals, and bring financial relief to California families, businesses and nonprofits.”

Catalytic converters are an important part of a vehicle exhaust system. They contain rare metals like rhodium, which can be worth up to eight times the price of gold per ounce.

Converters can be removed from a vehicle within minutes with basic tools. They are easy to sell on the black market. In 2021, California reported that 1,600 converters were stolen each month, leading to $23 million in repair costs.


1 Comment
  1. AI 5 months ago

    While I’m glad to see there’s a law attempting to address this problem, it strikes me as odd that there’s a limit of 9, and a fine of $250-1000 per offense. Effectively, this law will only make it so that thieves will work in smaller batches from now on. If they’re caught, it’s just the cost of “doing business” – I imagine the profits that they reap from 8 catalytic converters would easily pay $1000 fine once in a while. More feel-good laws that won’t really take a big dent out of the root issues.

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