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Nevada bills aim to penalize theft, purchase of catalytic converters

Updated March 26, 2023 - 11:03 pm

When Clint Fink started up his Toyota Prius on March 14, he immediately knew something was wrong.

“It sounded like a monster truck,” Fink said. “I thought something was going to blow up.”

The Henderson man said he then looked underneath the vehicle and saw a wire dangling in the middle of the exhaust system, and thought, “Oh, they got me.”

Fink had just become a victim of a crime rapidly increasing throughout the Las Vegas Valley — and across the country. His catalytic converter had been stolen.

Catalytic converters, which are part of a car’s exhaust system, have become a frequent target of thieves because of the value of the precious metals — palladium and platinum — in them and the relative ease with which they can be accessed and stolen.

The Metropolitan Police Department said it doesn’t track the number of catalytic converter thefts, but according to Carfax, as many as 153,000 catalytic converters were stolen nationwide in 2022, while State Farm says the crime has increased more than 400 percent since 2019.

“Currently, due to the absence of laws specifically related to catalytic converter theft, LVMPD is unable to provide a definite number for this type of theft,” Metro spokesman Robert Wicks said.

The best metric Metro can offer is the number of police reports that mention catalytic converters, according to Wicks. Last year 2,652 police reports mentioned catalytic converters, compared with 1,913 reports in 2021, a nearly 40 percent increase.

But now, two state Senate bills are taking aim at the issue.

Cracking down on crime

Senate Bill 243 and Senate Bill 250 are focused on cracking down on the crime by prohibiting the purchase of a catalytic converter from anyone other than a licensed worker — such as an automobile wrecker, scrap metal processor or automobile manufacturer or dealer — or someone with documentation proving ownership of the catalytic converter.

Sen. Rochelle Nguyen, D-Las Vegas, a sponsor of both bills, said in a hearing Thursday on SB 243 that the legislation is intended to “help curb what has increasingly become a serious and expensive problem.”

Nguyen cited the key differences between the two bills: While SB 243 emphasizes penalizing the people stealing catalytic converters, SB 250 focuses on penalizing those who buy the stolen parts.

SB 250 would prohibit the purchase of used catalytic converters from anyone but licensed car dealers, auto wreckers or scrap metal processors. It would impose fines of $1,000 for a first offense, $2,000 for a second offense and $4,000 for third and subsequent offenses.

Under SB 243, people would be prohibited from purchasing a used catalytic converter unless it was from a licensed business or a person who has proof they are the owner of it. Additionally, someone could face up to six years in prison if they were found to be illegally in possession of five to nine catalytic converters, and up to 10 years in prison if their violation involved 10 or more catalytic converters.

Nguyen said it’s possible both bills could pass and coexist simultaneously.

Without changes, ‘continued rise’

Supporters of SB 243, including the Metropolitan Police Department’s Christopher Ries, testified at a Senate Committee hearing for the bill on Thursday.

Ries said under current legislation, catalytic converter theft is difficult to prosecute.

“This law will allow us to arrest on both the theft of the stolen catalytic converter, and/or the possession of those catalytic converters,” Ries said. “Without any changes to the statutes, we can expect to see the continued rise in thefts of these.”

Fink says he was told by Toyota that a new catalytic converter would cost him $2,500, not including the cost of labor. Thankfully, his insurance policy will likely cover the cost of replacement, but he still has a bad taste in his mouth over the ordeal.

It’s Fink’s hope that SB 243 becomes law to help prevent Nevadans from having their property stolen.

“The principle of somebody thinking something I’ve worked for and earned, they think it’s theirs, that’s what irks me,” he said. “It sucks, but it is what it is.”

Contact Justin Razavi at jrazavi@reviewjournal.com. Follow @justin_razavi on Twitter.

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