Gov. Hochul Aims to Crack Down on Catalytic Converter Theft, but Experts Question her Approach
By Yehudit Garmaise
After thefts of catalytic converters, which are parts of cars’ exhaust systems that aim to reduce air pollution, quadrupled so far in 2022, Gov. Kathy Hochul signed legislation that imposes restrictions on businesses that sell the stolen car parts.
While the purpose of catalytic converters is to purify 90% of cars’ harmful emissions so they are less toxic, the converters are constructed of precious metals that cause the stolen parts to command up to $500 among scrap metal dealers.
In illegal businesses called, “chop shops,” stolen vehicles are dismantled so that valuable parts, such as catalytic converters, which are comprised of platinum, palladium, and rhodium, can be resold.
The new legislation hopes to discourage catalytic converter theft by keeping an eye on the businesses that sell the valuable metals from the stolen parts.
New York’s new law, which will not go into effect for six months, requires vehicle dismantlers to maintain records and report every 60 days on the number of the converters received for every two-month period.
Businesses that fail to maintain or produce those records upon request is a Class A misdemeanor and could include financial penalties that are twice what scrap metal business owners would make from the sale of the precious metals derived from the converters’ components, said the governor.
“No one should have to worry about [his or her catalytic converter getting stolen],” Gov. Hochul said at the Troop L State Police barracks in East Farmingdale. “You shouldn’t have to go to bed at night wondering whether someone is stealing this valuable commodity.”
Catalytic converter theft is not just costly to drivers, but to auto dealers who must pay thousands to replace each stolen converter and to fix cars’ undercarriages, fuel lines, and electric lines that were damaged while thieves wrenched free the precious metals that are lodged between cars’ mufflers and engines.
While New York’s legislation aims to crack down on catalytic converter theft by regulating the sales of its valuable metals, some experts worry that the new law might do more harm than good.
Enforcing chop shops to maintain and report records will cause catalytic converter businesses to sell on organized theft rings on the Internet instead of through state-licensed recyclers, Lawrence Schillinger, the compliance counsel for the New York chapter of the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, a trade group for vehicle dismantlers told Newsday.
New York’s new law will likely drive dealers of catalytic converters to sell their valuable metals on the “dark web,” which is part of the Internet that is anonymous and therefore full of criminal activity.
"The end result of this ill-conceived legislation will deny law enforcement agencies the ability to track sales of potentially stolen catalytic converters," Schillinger said.
The legislation Gov. Hochul signed also requires new motor vehicle dealers and other qualified dealers to stock catalytic converter etching kits, which will be provided at cost, that engrave unique serial numbers on the converters’ components so that they can be tracked when they are stolen.
The governor also directed the New York State Police and the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles to strengthen their joint efforts to increase their investigations and crackdowns in areas in which the rates of catalytic converter theft are particularly high and often cross state lines.