A proposal to curb catalytic converter thefts is a good start, but more is needed

Neighboring states have taken a tougher stance on the thefts. Illinois should, too.

SHARE A proposal to curb catalytic converter thefts is a good start, but more is needed
Thieves are stealing catalytic converters from cars and selling them for the valuable metals inside.

Thieves are stealing catalytic converters from cars and selling them for the valuable metals inside.

Sun-Times file

Increasingly around Chicago, motorists have begun their mornings with an unwanted roar.

That’s likely because their cars’ catalytic converters have been hacked off and stolen overnight, leaving a breach in their exhaust system that is not only loud but also expensive to repair.

State Rep. La Shawn Ford wants to put the clamp on catalytic converter thefts with a proposed law requiring anyone selling a used catalytic converter to show two sources of identification, including a driver’s license or state ID, at the point of sale. The buyer would have to keep a record of the information.

“If you’re going to have to identify who you are when you’re selling this catalytic converter, then you’re going to think twice [about stealing and selling one],” Ford told CBS2 Chicago last month.

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Ford’s proposal is a solid start. His bill should quickly find its way into law. But other states have cracked down even further on catalytic converter thefts over the past two years. Illinois should do the same.

Easy to steal, valuable inside

Catalytic converters are emissions control devices that have been standard on gasoline-powered U.S. automobiles since 1975. They are easy to steal. Thieves can jack up a car, slide underneath and cut away the converter in minutes.

Once swiped, the converters are often taken to auto scrappers and others who harvest the minute amounts of valuable precious metals inside the device. One of the metals, rhodium, currently trades at $14,000 a troy ounce.

Not that the thieves reap that kind of cash. The purloined converters might net them as little as $50. But car owners could end up paying as much as $2,000 to replace the unit, although comprehensive car insurance often covers the thefts.

State Farm says it paid out $21 million for catalytic converter thefts in the first six months of 2021. The insurer shelled out $33 million for thefts of the devices in all of 2020.

Of the states with the most claims, Illinois is ranked fifth, State Farm says. California holds the top spot.

Bill should be tougher, though

Under Ford’s bill, any company dealing in auto parts, from scrappers to rebuilders, would have to record each converter purchased, including the name and address of the seller, who would have to show ID to complete the transaction.

That’s a start, but we want tougher provisions. For instance, an Ohio state legislator last month proposed a law that would require a catalytic converter seller to provide documentation that they actually own the device. Purchasers would be required to photograph the seller.

And in July, Indiana passed a law that requires people looking to sell a converter that isn’t attached to a vehicle to provide the title, vehicle registration or repair receipt for the auto from which the device was removed. If the documentation can’t be provided, the seller must have an affidavit from a police officer essentially confirming the converter is not stolen.

Those are the kind of extra steps we’d like to see become law here in Illinois.

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The Hoosiers mean business, too. Stealing or possessing a stolen converter in Indiana is a level 6 felony — it used to be a misdemeanor — that can garner between six months and two-and-half years in prison and a $10,000 fine upon conviction.

Closer to home, Evanston police sponsored an event earlier this month in which the department spray-painted car owners’ converters, in hopes that brightly marking the device would prevent it from being stolen and sold.

But does that work? St. Paul, Minnesota, police tried the idea in April, spraying SPPD in bright paint on the converter.

“What we found out is that many scrapyards won’t purchase a catalytic converter that’s been marked,” a police spokesperson told Minnesota Public Radio.

Every little bit helps, though. Illinois can take a step by passing Ford’s bill, with amendments to drive home the point that our state is serious about addressing these thefts.

Send letters to letters@suntimes.com.

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