Rep. Josh Harder, D-Turlock, has announced his support for federal legislation that will help curb the rising rate of catalytic converter thefts nationwide.
HR 6394, a bill authored by Rep Jim Baird, R-Indiana, will codify catalytic converter crimes as criminal offenses, enhance law enforcement’s abilities to track stolen converters and help stop black market sales of converters.
“Everyone in the Valley knows that we’re seeing a rise in catalytic converter theft right now, and it’s past time we got our law enforcement officers the tools they need to fight back,” Harder said in a press release. “I’m proud to back this bipartisan bill so we can put the folks orchestrating these crimes behind bars and stop this theft from happening in the first place.”
According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, the number of reported converter thefts jumped from 3,389 in 2019 to 14,433 in 2020 — an increase of more than 325 percent.
Between 2020 and 2021, attempted or completed thefts of catalytic converters increased 185 percent (from 85 to 243) in Turlock alone, according to statistics provided by the Turlock Police Department.
It’s not difficult for thieves to dislodge a catalytic converter from a vehicle.
“Depending on the make and model of the car, it would take about two minutes,” said Robert DeCouto, a smog inspector at Balswick’s Quick Smog in Turlock.
Thieves don’t need to get under the hood to steal a catalytic converter. All that’s needed is the ability to crawl under a vehicle with enough space to operate a hacksaw or a blow torch.
DeCouto has seen customers come in for a smog check, only to learn for the first time that their car’s catalytic converter has been stolen.
“And that’s an automatic fail,” said DeCouto.
It’s not only impossible to pass a smog check without a converter, but it can ruin a car’s fuel efficiency, as well.
Conversely, DeCouto says that he’s seen cars come into the shop with the converters protected by chicken wire, steel rebar, even a lock and chain.
“I’ve even seen where the car owner has a complete cover over the catalytic converter,” said DeCouto.
Catalytic converters are used to reduce the potency of toxic emissions from cars and have been required on cars for decades, though some older cars may be exempt. These converters are desired by thieves for their scrap metal value — specifically platinum, palladium and rhodium.
Replacement parts can be costly for vehicle owners, ranging from $500 to in excess of $2,000, according to Harder’s press release. In some cases, the cost of a catalytic converter may be enough for the vehicle to be totaled.
The Preventing Recycling Theft Act seeks to reduce thefts by allowing law enforcement officials to link stolen parts to the vehicle from which they originate by requiring new vehicles to have a Vehicle Identification Number stamped onto the converter; to create a grant program to help stamp VIN numbers onto converters of existing vehicles; improve record keeping standards for purchasers of used catalytic converters; and establish enforceability of laws around catalytic converter theft.
The Turlock Police Department has taken proactive steps to combat converter thefts.
“We partnered with Jiffy Lube to host free catalytic converter etching events,” Turlock PD crime and community information analyst Erika Grace said in a statement. “The goal of these events was to create awareness, provide outreach or potential solutions to Turlock residents and assist in the investigative process of this crime.
"We had a lot of interest and support during the events, the first post received over 100 shares on Facebook. At each event we had approximately 30 vehicles attend, totaling around 90 vehicles at the conclusion of the three events.
In 2021, approximately 39 percent of victims were Honda owners, Toyota owners (18 percent) and several models of Ford (17 percent), according to Turlock PD statistics.
Apartments and mobile home parks have been some of the locations that have been targeted the most. More recently, from January to May, 2022 there were already 112 attempts or thefts, costing those victims more than $88,000 damages and loss of their property. From January 2020 to the end of May 2022, citizens reported an estimated total loss of over $350,000 due to damage or theft of their property. It is believed that only a portion of total number of thefts and damages are being reported, so it is very likely the actual numbers are higher.