Catalytic converter theft is a statewide problem that deserves a statewide solution. A bill drafted by Sen. Jeff Wilson-R, Longview, for the upcoming legislative session in January is a good start.
For years, law enforcement agencies all over Washington have reported thefts of catalytic converters, which are part of a vehicle's emissions system that reduces harmful pollution going out the tailpipe. In 2020, the numbers spiked.
In Seattle alone, police reported 514 cases of catalytic converter theft in 2020, with thefts surging even more this year. The impact can be a pain for victims, who often must wait weeks for replacement parts and pay an insurance deductible.
"Catalytic converter theft has become the crime of the day," Wilson said. "My bill is not going to end the theft of catalytic converters. It will slow it down. We're plugging the leaks."
A catalytic converter is lightweight and often easily accessible under the car. High prices for precious metals in converters — palladium, platinum and rhodium — make them attractive to thieves, who can steal them in less than two minutes with only a wrench or battery-powered saw.
The metals don't do criminals any good unless they can be sold to a scrap dealer. With the right make and model, a thief can make as much as $3,500 per stolen converter. That's where legislation can make the most difference.
Wilson's bill prohibits scrap dealers from purchasing catalytic converters except from commercial enterprises and vehicle owners. Scrap dealers who knowingly purchase or receive stolen catalytic converters would face misdemeanor charges.
Senate Bill 5495 also requires scrap-metal dealers to confirm ownership when catalytic converters are resold and maintain records of vehicle identification numbers. Cash payments could not be made on the spot and would have to be delayed at least five days.
Wilson said the legislation has attracted bipartisan support: "There is no such thing as a blue or red catalytic converter."
Wilson modeled his measure after a similar law that took effect in Oregon Jan. 1, out of concern that it will push thieves there north.
Washington lawmakers should take this on and quickly pass legislation that alleviates this widespread, expensive and frustrating crime.