California Introduces Strict New Laws for Auto Parts

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

On Sunday, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed new legislation designed to prevent catalytic-converter thefts. The auto part has become a preferred target for criminals, especially on the West Coast, due to its high content of precious metals and relative ease of removal. Last year, more than 18,000 units are believed to have been hacked off in California alone and the issue only seems to be getting worse.

The law seeks to impose stricter penalties on thieves and adds a new $1,000 fine that multiplies itself every time someone is caught sawing on an exhaust pipe without the owner’s permission. But it also establishes rules that effectively make it illegal to purchase auto parts from anyone other than a licensed dealer or the vehicle’s current owner.

This requires that recyclers keep comprehensive records of any catalytic converters that come into their possession, lest they face penalties of their own – starting with a suspension that would put them temporarily out of business. Purchasers will now need to keep a written agreement signed by the seller, along with the agreed-upon price for a period of two years. Additionally, buyers will need to have copies of any unique ID numbers and/or original vehicle identification numbers which California says will now need to be etched onto the parts.

While this may make it harder to move ill-gotten catalytic converters, it also sets the stage for serialized automotive parts. The upside to this is that they’ll be easier to track and regulate. However, the right-to-repair movement has cautioned that such initiatives could potentially strengthen pre-existing ties between automotive manufacturers and the government, stifle at-home mechanics' ability to source parts from junkyards, and create new controls that may help OEMs to monopolize the aftermarket industry.

But the fact remains that converter thefts have become a serious problem over the past 48 months and the best solution thus far has been to avoid buying anything with a lot of ground clearance or literally wrapping your exhaust pipe with braided steel that’s harder to cut through. As much as I want to back the right-to-repair movement, additional actions may need to be taken unless California is going to be cool with people running cat-free exhausts. Though something tells me that the most emissions-obsessed state in the Union probably isn’t willing to compromise on that, especially when the new rules mean more opportunity for regulation.

According to the Los Angeles Times, California actually introduced a full suite of bills designed to address the staggering increase in thefts. Senate Bill 1087, by state Sen. Lena Gonzalez (D-Long Beach), and Assembly Bill 1740, by Assembly member Al Muratsuchi (D-Rolling Hills Estates) are the ones that increase penalties for buyers who fail to certify with the government that a catalytic converter wasn’t stolen. These are being mimicked by other states, with over 100 individual pieces of pending legislation existing elsewhere in the country.

With State Farm insurance reporting that catalytic converter theft grew almost 293 percent nationwide by the summer of 2021 – one year after the initial spike in theft – it’s easy to see why states would want more protection. But none of the legislation really addresses the root issue. Thefts didn’t increase because someone realized that catalytic converters were valuable and relatively easy to steal. They jumped because the economy entered into a period of severe duress and gave way to increased levels of crime in general. Worse yet, the extensive paper trail that’s at the heart of most of the resulting legislation only helps when a catalytic converter is being resold. Units being held for a period of over two years or immediately torn apart so the individual materials can be smelted down for profit likely won’t be impacted by the new rules – so the best case scenario is that the new laws discourage thieves while making stolen converters a little harder to flip overnight.

[Image: fru-fru/Shutterstock]

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Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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2 of 19 comments
  • Rover Sig Rover Sig on Sep 27, 2022

    Steve65 - Stay on topic. The cops don't steal catalytic converters. The cops are actually the good guys.

  • Master Baiter Master Baiter on Sep 28, 2022

    Not being satisfied with destroying San Fransisco and all of California, Newsom appears to have his sights set on the presidency. God help us all.

    Newsom is living proof that women shouldn't be allowed to vote.

  • Namesakeone Since I include SUVs and minivans as trucks, I really cannot think of a brand that is truly truckless. MG maybe?
  • Sobhuza Trooper Subaru, they were almost there with the BRAT. --On a lighter note, where the hell is my Cooper Works Mini truck?
  • Mike Evs do suck, though. I mean, they really do.
  • Steve Biro I don’t care what brand but it needs to be a compact two-door with an ICE, traditional parallel hybrid or both. A manual transmission option would be nice but I don’t expect it - especially with a hybrid. Don’t show me an EV.
  • ToolGuy Lose a couple of cylinders, put the rest in a straight line and add a couple of turbos. Trust me.