Apr 1, 2024 - News

New Washington law will crack down on catalytic converter theft

A police officer engraves a catalytic converter on the bottom of a car.

A California sheriff's deputy engraves a catalytic converter with a traceable number. Photo: Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images

With Gov. Jay Inslee's approval, Washington will get new protections for catalytic converters next year — and new penalties for stealing them.

Why it matters: Catalytic converters contain valuable metal and aren't easy to trace, which makes them easy to steal. That's led to a rise in thefts throughout Washington and nationally, with little recourse for car owners.

  • The thefts disproportionately impact the "people who can least afford it," King County senior prosecutor Gary Ernsdorff said during a committee hearing on the bill in February.

By the numbers: According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, catalytic converter thefts spiked in 2021 to 2,079. There were just 21 thefts in 2019.

  • The problem is so common that at least 31 states have already passed laws targeting it, the report also notes.

Zoom in: Per the new law, catalytic converters in Washington will be marked to enable tracing.

  • Catalytic converter sales will also be regulated, with documentation and licensing requirements for buyers and sellers.

How it works: When a car is sold, dealers will be required to offer buyers the service of etching the last eight digits of its vehicle identification number permanently onto the catalytic converter.

  • If the catalytic converter is stolen, law enforcement will then be able to easily trace it back to the original vehicle, the law's proponents argue.

What's next: The law goes into effect in April 2025.

Editor's note: This article has been corrected to reflect that catalytic converter thefts in Washington spiked in 2021, not 2020 as a state report said, based on data from the National Insurance Crime Bureau.


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