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    CA Special Interests Kill Catalytic Converter Theft Prevention Bill

    Press Release

    Umberg-Portantino Legislation Dies in Assembly with Pressure from Car Dealers, Manufacturers


    Sacramento, CA – Senate Bill 986, a measure authored by State Senator Tom Umberg (D – Santa Ana) and Senator Anthony J. Portantino (D – La Cañada Flintridge), to combat catalytic converter theft, failed passage on the Assembly Floor yesterday in a display of special interest power in California.


    SB 986, sponsored by law enforcement and supported by consumer groups, proposed to tackle catalytic converter theft by requiring dealers to apply a vehicle identification number (VIN) to the catalytic converter of each vehicle listed for sale. An imprinted VIN identifies most major parts of vehicles sold in the United States.  It is these identification markings that allow law enforcement to establish that parts are stolen, even if the stolen vehicle has already been fully broken down.  However, this serial number identification process does not currently apply to catalytic converters.  As a result, law enforcement may make arrests of individuals in possession of dozens or even hundreds of suspect catalytic converters — but be unable to prove a case in court because there is no way to identify the victims of crime to show that these parts are stolen.  The application of a VIN to a catalytic converter is usually done by etching, in a process that is both easy and inexpensive.


    Senate Bill 986 required auto dealers to mark the catalytic converters of vehicles up for sale.  After having garnered not a single ‘no’ vote throughout the Legislative Session, the measure failed on the Assembly Floor yesterday.


    Catalytic converter theft has skyrocketed both within California and nationally in recent years as the profits from recycled metal have increased. The Bureau of Automotive Repair (BAR) reported about 1,600 converter thefts per month statewide in 2021.  According to data provided by the Personal Insurance Federation of California, insurance claims for catalytic converter thefts in California have gone up from a monthly average of 183 in 2020 to 477 claims in January of 2022. Claims rose by 308% from 2019 to 2020 and another 100% again from 2020 to 2021. California had the highest number of claims in the United States, accounting for 28% of all theft claims in the country.  The insurance industry paid over $23 million in repair costs for catalytic converters in 2021 alone, an 11.5% increase from the year before.

    These statistics have led to an outcry from consumers for assistance from local and state officials.  A stolen catalytic converter not only represents a fiscal cost to families, but also takes time for replacement – all the while significantly impacting a household’s ability to get to school, work, doctor’s appointments, or other vital activities.

    In response, Senator Umberg issued the following statement:

    “I’m honestly shocked.  I’m not surprised that the auto dealers and car manufacturers would be reluctant to take on this task to support their customers – we engaged in multiple conversations with them in the last seven months.  Frankly, I’m more surprised that the majority of the California State Assembly chose the concerns of the car dealers over the cries of help from their constituents.

    Throughout 2021 and 2022 as this epidemic has evolved, small businesses across California have opened their doors to provide free etching events for residents.  We’ve proven time and time again that this task can be done quickly, efficiently, and at minimal cost.

    Law enforcement officials and agencies across California explained repeatedly that this change was both warranted and essential in helping to both track and prosecute these crimes – but apparently that is of little consequence to many of my colleagues.

    The status quo here is shameful. We owe it to our communities to be more responsible in combating catalytic converter theft and holding perpetrators accountable. Yet today the Legislature failed to solve a relatively simple problem that is greatly impacting thousands.”

    Senator Thomas Umberg represents the 34th Senate District which includes the cities of Anaheim, Fountain Valley, Huntington Beach, Garden Grove, Long Beach, Los Alamitos,

    Midway City, Orange, Santa Ana, Seal Beach, and Westminster. Umberg is a member of the Senate Committee on Military and Veterans Affairs, a retired U.S. Army Colonel,

    and former federal prosecutor. He and his wife, Brigadier General Robin Umberg, USA (ret.), live in Orange County.


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