California Auto Shops Offer Free Etchings to Fight Catalytic Converter Theft

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GARDEN GROVE, Calif.—To help mitigate the risk of catalytic converter thefts, State Sen. Tom Umberg (D-Santa Ana) joined representatives from the Automobile Club of Southern California and the Garden Grove Police Department at Buddy’s Auto Tires And More to etch vehicles’ license numbers on converters for free.

The etchings are part of a community effort, occurring at 16 other Orange County and Los Angeles County Auto Club-approved vehicle repair shops.

Catalytic converter etching involves marking the vehicle’s license plate number onto the exposed converters located in the exhaust system under the vehicle. The process takes about 15 minutes per vehicle, according to the Auto Club, and involves raising the car on a lift for easier access for the etchers.

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“This is very exciting,” one spectator said as she watched mechanics complete etchings on back-to-back vehicles in the shop.

A car has its catalytic converter etched for free at Buddy’s Auto Tires and More as part of a concerted effort with the California Auto Club, Garden Grove Police Department, and Sen. Tom Umberg’s (D-Santa Ana) office in Garden Grove, Calif., on June 13, 2022. (Carol Cassis/The Epoch Times)

In addition to making the vehicle inoperable, Umberg said many constituents struggle to pay to replace the part and repair the damage of a stolen converter.

“To pay to replace the part and repair the damage … can be expensive and cost thousands of dollars,” Umberg told The Epoch Times.

Catalytic converters contain precious metals, some worth more than gold, making them a desired target for thieves.

In fact, as of 2020, over 1,200 catalytic converters are stolen on average each month in California alone, according to a study from the National Insurance Crime Bureau, a non-profit aimed at combating insurance fraud and crime.

Doug Shupe, a spokesman for the California Auto Club, said damages extend beyond the initial damage from the theft and the cost of replacing the converter, since only “comprehensive” auto insurance will cover repair and replacement costs.

Those with only partial coverage are liable for costs out of pocket, according to Shupe, in addition to costs from smog checks which their car would fail if costlier repairs are not completed beyond a simple less expensive repair.

One such victim is Garden Grove resident Corwin Brown, a retired environmental health specialist who had his converter stolen in early May at Buena Park Mall. Thieves waged so much damage on Brown’s car that repairs exceeded $6,000, Brown said.

“My partner of [over] 30 years jumped out of her seat when I started the engine,” Brown told The Epoch Times, describing the loud noise emanating from the vehicle immediately after the theft.

With converters being on back-order after rising theft, it took a month for Brown to get his car back following repairs.

According to Brown, his tow truck driver had already assisted with over 50 others who also had their converters stolen the previous month.

Epoch Times Photo
Corwin Brown poses with his newly repaired car after his catalytic converter was stolen one month prior in Garden Grove, Calif., on June 13, 2022. (Carol Cassis/The Epoch Times)

Auto Club statistics show even starker increases, with claims data from the company alone showing an over 98 percent increase in converter thefts from 2020 to 2021.

“Already it’s a difficult time with costs rising. High gas prices, and [now] having an auto part stolen like this that could cost you $3,000 or more to replace,” Auto Club spokesman Doug Shupe told The Epoch Times. “It’s a frustrating time for vehicle owners.”

Umberg sponsored a state resolution declaring this week “Catalytic Converter Theft Awareness Week,” among additional efforts to crack down on thefts, along with a new senate bill.

Umberg’s Senate Bill 986 prohibits a dealer or retailer from selling a new or used vehicle equipped with a catalytic converter unless the converter has been engraved or etched with the vehicle identification number.

This would dissuade thieves from selling stolen converters by streamlining tracing back to the original owner, Umberg said, allowing law enforcement to prosecute thefts more effectively.

The bill is currently making its way through the state legislature, having passed several committees already. Representatives from Umberg’s office express they are “confident” the bill will pass.

Carol Cassis

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