Amid a nearly 400% rise in catalytic converter thefts around the nation, Gov. Phil Murphy this week signed legislation designed to make it harder to steal and sell the pollution control devices, which are coveted by criminals for their valuable rare earth metals.
“Addressing catalytic converter theft is another method of combating auto theft and crime in our state,” Murphy said in a statement Monday, referring to the ongoing surge in stolen vehicles in New Jersey. “Residents who experience the violation of having a critical component of their vehicle stolen are forced to pay thousands of dollars to replace them.”
A study released this month by the National Insurance Crime Bureau found reports of stolen catalytic converters ballooned from 16,660 in 2020 to 64,701 last year, based on insurance-industry data.
Catalytic converters, which neutralize harmful gases in engine exhausts, have been required by the Environmental Protection Agency on most gasoline engines since 1975.
Why catalytic converter theft is booming
Bolted to the undercarriage of motor vehicles, the devices contain the rare earth metals platinum, rhodium, and palladium, which are “more valuable than gold,” according to the insurance industry report. That study also noted that some metal recyclers will pay between $50 to $250 for a catalytic converter and up to $800 for one removed from a hybrid vehicle.
“Replacing catalytic converters is not cheap,” the study observed. “It can cost between $1,000 and $3,500 or more to replace a catalytic converter that is stolen, depending on the type of vehicle.”
NJ is a hotspot for stolen devices
Another study released in February by background check company BeenVerified shows that catalytic converter thefts in New Jersey rose from 47 in 2019 to 127 in 2020, 1,120 in 2021 and 2,826 in 2022.
New Jersey was among the “theft hotspots” for catalytic converters last year, with a 152% increase over 2021, BeenVerfied said. That was the second largest year-over-year increase behind only New York, at 184%, according to the report.
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Legislation focuses on scrap yards
The legislation signed by Murphy, which takes effect immediately, makes it more difficult for criminals to sell stolen catalytic converters to scrap yards and gives law enforcement more tools to identify, locate and prosecute violators.
The bill, S249/A2210, implements certain guidelines concerning the sale and purchase of catalytic converters by:
amending the definition of “scrap metal” to explicitly include all or part of a used catalytic converter not attached to a motor vehicle;
strengthening ownership verification when selling used catalytic converters to scrap metal businesses by requiring the business to document the vehicle identification number, the certificate of title or registration, a repair receipt or a bill of sale at the time of purchase, and imposing fines on violating businesses; and
allowing only scrap metal businesses to purchase used catalytic converters from anyone other than a registered seller.
“By implementing guidelines on the sale and purchase of catalytic converters, we raise the bar for accountability, making it harder for criminals to profit from stolen converters and easier for law enforcement to bring them to justice,” Attorney General Matthew Platkin stated in the release announcing the bill signing.
The bill cleared the state Senate last year and the Assembly in March by unanimous votes.
Nationwide network broken up
Catalytic converter thefts gained attention in November when federal, state and local law enforcement agencies executed a coordinated nationwide takedown of “a national network of thieves, dealers and processors” for their roles in conspiracies involving stolen catalytic converters, the Department of Justice announced.
Twenty-one people in five states were charged for their alleged roles in a conspiracy in which the devices were sold to a metal refinery for “tens of millions of dollars,” the DOJ announced.
Arrests, searches and seizures took place in California, Oklahoma, Wyoming, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Nevada, North Carolina and Virginia.
William Westhoven is a local reporter for DailyRecord.com. For unlimited access to the most important news from your local community, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.
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This article originally appeared on Morristown Daily Record: NJ Murphy signs law targeting soaring catalytic converter theft