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Criminal Justice

Bill Seeks To Beat Back Catalytic Converter Thieves Seeking A Pricey Metal Used To Make Them

A Los Angeles Sheriff's Department deputy with dark hair, light brown skin and a blue t-shirt sits on his back underneath a vehicle holding an engraving tool, working on etching a silver catalytic converter on the car's undercarriage.
Deputy Jaime Moran from the Los Angeles Sheriffs Department engraves the catalytic converter of a vehicle with a traceable number last July.
(Frederic J. Brown
AFP via Getty Images)
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It’s shiny, it’s under your car, and if you cashed it in, you probably could buy yourself a Louis Vuitton.

No, it’s not a lockbox full of precious jewels that the dealership tricked you into paying for, it’s a catalytic converter, one of the most common car parts lifted from vehicles in recent years. Catalytic converters contain rhodium, a valuable metal which continues to soar in price. According to a site that tracks the current price of metals, an ounce of rhodium currently sells for nearly $20,000.

To make it easier to track stolen items, State Senator Bob Umberg (D-Santa Ana) co-authored a bill requiring car dealers to etch the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) on all converters on cars listed for sale.

“There's been an epidemic of catalytic converter theft,” said Umberg. “And the purpose of this bill is to enable law enforcement to catch the folks who are stealing catalytic converters.”

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The practice of catalytic converter VIN inscription is not new. In fact, car owners seeking to get that extra layer of protection can head to the Echo Park Reservoir Wednesday (April 6) for free engraving services, courtesy of the LAPD’s Northeast Auto Detectives and the L.A. Sheriff's Taskforce for Regional Auto Theft Prevention.

The event runs from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at 1863 Silver Lake Blvd., north of the dog park.

In February, L.A. District Attorney George Gascón and LAPD Chief Michel Moore threw their support behind Senate Bill 986.

A statement they released said, in part:

“Catalytic converters have become a popular target of theft because they contain valuable metals and are untraceable and easy to sell. This bill will give law enforcement important tools that will reduce property crime and save consumers the money and hassle of replacing the stolen parts.”

Some 20% of thefts from vehicles in the city of Los Angeles involved catalytic converters, according to Moore. By requiring VIN engraving, authorities should be able to track the converter origin and hold the recycling industry — which plays a large part in the re-sale of the car parts — accountable.

“I’m encouraged by the bill’s focus on accountability for the recycling businesses as they play a key part in the cycle of a catalytic converter theft,” Moore said.

The legislation was unanimously approved by one legislative committee this week but still has a number of steps before it could become law. State Sen. Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge), calls the proposed legislation a “commonsense solution” for an increasingly pressing issue.

“Catalytic converter thefts are rising and serious. It is a crime that is affecting an increasing number of families in the 25th State Senate District and across the state. We must enact tougher law enforcement strategies and penalties to combat it,” said Sen. Portantino via statement.

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The primary opposition to the bill comes from a group representing new car dealers, who argue that the legislation would further increase the price of catalytic converters.

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