Will the new catalytic converter law prevent thefts in Oakland?


Governor Gavin Newsom signed two laws this week it will be harder for people to sell stolen catalytic converters, essential parts of vehicle exhaust systems that reduce pollution. SB 1087 and AB 1740 will require recycling centers to maintain databases of all catalytic converter parts, including who they buy converters from, and will make it illegal to buy converters from unauthorized parties. From January 1, 2023, when the laws come into force, only car owners, dealers and disassemblers will be able to sell them.

“We are going to tackle one of the root causes of this crime, and it is these brokers and intermediaries who are paying the highest price for stolen parts,” newsom said in a video on Sunday.

The bills will also require scrap companies to record vehicle identification numbers and a driver’s license linked to each sale, creating a searchable database accessible to local authorities. In addition, recyclers are also required to ask vendors of converters for the title of a vehicleto prove ownership.

“It’s great to see the state finally act,” said Oakland council member Sheng Thao. said on Twitter after signing the invoice. “This simple and sensible change will have a huge impact on flying.”

Depending on dealers, a single catalytic converter can sell for between $50 and $250, with some late 2000s Prius model converters exceeding $1,000. But the cost of repair is usually even higher. According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, average prices range between $1,000 and $3,000. However, Oaklanders told The Oaklandside the cost is often over $4,000 when you include labor and towing.

And these high costs are usually only for one flight. Some Oakland residents have reported converter thefts multiple times within months of each other.

Rod Miller, a retired North Oakland resident, said he had to pay a $500 insurance deductible to repair his Honda Accord last summer, money he needed for other needs. He had to leave his Honda in the workshop for six months after the converter was stolen and was waiting for parts overseas. Then the converter from his other car, a salvaged Toyota Prius, was also stolen in June. After that, he decided to donate the hybrid car instead of paying another large sum. His wife was sentimental about the car, so she took a picture of it as it drove away.

“I don’t know why people steal converters in the first place. This forced us to [take out everything in] the garage for the first time in 20 years, to park the car to avoid another theft,” he said.

The theft of catalytic converters has increased due to the precious metals such as rhodium, platinum and palladium they contain. These metals have risen in price over the past few years due to inflation and a lack of access to precious metals used in major technology products.

In the 1970s, cars added converters to reduce toxic pollutants emitted by internal combustion engines. Converters are part of the exhaust pipe and are distinguished by a stomach-shaped pocket in the middle of a car’s floor, which allows thieves to easily strip them with a saw. As all cars must have a working catalytic converter to pass a smog test, the problem causes a lot of grief and a significant waste of time and money.

Over the past four years, catalytic converter thefts have increased tenfold to more than 18,000 in 2021 in California. A CARFAX A survey earlier this year of more than 60,000 body shops in the United States found it to be top-notch service.

There is no specific number of thefts in Oakland, but based on social media accounts and reports on the city’s SeeClickFix site, the problem is widespread.

The new California laws were modeled after Oregon’s Senate Bill 803, which went into effect earlier this year. People were looking forward to this change, but it doesn’t seem to have reduced black market sales or flight numbers. Shops described cars arriving five times a day with new converter theft issues. With the low availability of parts, cars are sometimes immobilized for weeks or even months.

The materials market may not be centralized, according to some reports. For example, pawnbrokers may accept certain materials. Yet the belief is that many resellers are melt converters so that they can sell the basic materials overseas through online retailers.

Some Oakland residents aren’t convinced the law will bring about significant changes.

“No creepy way [things will change]West Oakland resident Danielle Guercio told The Oaklandside. “People find a niche and exploit it. We can’t wait for legislation to stop all thieves’ operations. There should be a police response on the ground to what’s going on, and there isn’t. .

Guercio owns a 2001 Honda Accord, one of the most common cars without converters. His was stolen earlier this year on the fourth attempt by the same group of people. The first few times, she and her partner scared off the thieves by yelling at them, only losing parts of the muffler and pipes, which they paid to be repaired. But on the fourth attempt, the thieves took the converter at four in the morning. Guercio said the OPD asked them to complete an online form but has not registered with them since.

Instead of fixing the car for $3,000, she decided to leave the car in front as some sort of decoy. She even added a sign on the window to let anyone know there was no converter left to pick up. And she has no intention of fixing the car.

“We’re not going to be a catalytic converter for people!” she joked.

Some Oakland residents have decided not to repair their car after a stolen catalytic converter because the cost is too high. West Oakland resident Danielle Guercio decided to leave her car on the street with a sign warning would-be thieves there was nothing left to steal. Credit: Danielle Guercio

Several people we spoke to who need their car to get to work or to transit hubs have been negatively impacted by the thefts.

Cleveland Heights resident Sara Brink had her car’s converter stolen last month and will have to pay nearly $4,000 out of pocket to fix it. She said she won’t be able to drive her car until next year. It forced her to cycle to the nearby West Oakland bike station for three weeks, despite fearing the area’s poor infrastructure and cars running red lights. But then her chronic back pain flared up and she tried to take the 62-line AC Transit bus, which she says never arrives on time. Since then, she has relied on the private car service and GIG Car Share rental cars. A few weeks ago, however, a tire blew out on a GIG ride, and Brink had to pay a $1,400 tow.

“So I find myself personally and literally having to pay for social and political failures just to be able to work,” she said in an emailed letter to her board member. “I tried to do the responsible thing by taking the bus to South Bay rather than driving… just getting to and from work became an onerous burden.”

Andrew Waterman, an Oakland resident who recently witnessed two thefts of catalytic converters in his neighborhood, said he tried to catch people with his camera at his home, but never got around to it. successful.

“It scares me to leave my car on the street,” he said. “After this happened to my neighbor I started thinking, I just can’t leave any of my cars on the street, but it’s also just a feeling that at night people are there for you to catch.”

He says he doesn’t believe the Newsom Act will have any effect.

“The law criminalizes the buying and selling of converters except through sanctioned regulated channels, but they already don’t go to reputable muffler shops or other locations,” Waterman said.

The manager of a local smog testing site told The Oaklandside that he didn’t think it would change the situation either. He says it’s not always easy to determine the serial numbers of catalytic converters and connect them to individual cars and that any database system that will help track them will likely take years to get started.

“I highly doubt it will work, but it’s worth it,” said the mechanic, who asked not to be identified.


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