New state legislation fights catalytic converter theft

Governor Jay Inslee signed a bill on March 26 adding new regulations to the purchase and sale of catalytic converters — and the metals used within the manufacturing of catalytic converters — in a legislative effort to reduce thefts of the vehicle component.

Thefts of catalytic converters, a component in a vehicle’s exhaust system that assists in emission control, have seen a nationwide increase, “partly driven by the dramatic rise in the value of precious metals used in the manufacture of catalytic converters,” according to a report from the Washington State University’s Catalytic Converter Theft Workgroup.

House Bill 2153 requires all purchasers of catalytic converters to be licensed and subject to regulation and inspection, requires the permanent marking of catalytic converters for the identification of the originating vehicle, and the creation of an enforcement structure and penalties for the regulations.

Senior prosecutor Gary Ernsdorff of the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office testified in front of the Washington Senate Transportation Committee on Feb. 22 that the Catalytic Converter Theft Workgroup “found that one of the best ways to combat [catalytic converter crime] is to more carefully regulate detached catalytic converters and the marketplace.”

According to the workgroup’s final report to the Washington State Legislature, published on Jan. 1, 2023, the workgroup found insurance claims data indicating a 19-fold increase in catalytic converter thefts between 2019 and 2020 in Washington, and another 5-fold increase between 2020 and 2021.

According to the report, within the Pacific Northwest, rates of catalytic converter theft claims have served as “substantially higher” in Washington and Oregon in comparison to Idaho and Montana.

The workgroup issued multiple recommendations to the legislature that received “broad consensus” by workgroup members; including recommendations like marking catalytic converters and creating a database to match catalytic converters with vehicle types; creating a victim compensation program to assist victims of catalytic converter theft; requiring periodic inspections of licensed purchasers dealing in detached catalytic converters; and more.

House Bill 2153 requires scrap metal businesses create records of all transactions involving private metal property and non-ferrous metals like copper, brass, aluminum; requires the business to have any persons the business makes a transaction with sign a declaration and show government-issued identification; alongside additional regulations. Violations for purchasers include a minimum of a $1,000 penalty per violation.

The bill introduces new legal ramifications for catalytic converter theft, including the removal or alteration of a detached catalytic converter’s identification number serving as a class C felony; the sale of seven or more detached catalytic converters out of regulatory compliance serving as a class C felony, and less, serving as a misdemeanor; and purchasing a detached catalytic converter without possessing valid licenses serving as a class C felony.

“One of the more disturbing findings that we came up with was how this crime disproportionately impacts lower income folks in your jurisdictions. The people who can least afford it,” said Ernsdorff said at the committee hearing. “Those folks often have older cars with more valuable catalytic converters. They don’t always have insurance to cover losses, and they may only have one vehicle, meaning the resulting impact can impact the ability to get to a job, school, or other necessary daily functions.”