Rash of catalytic converter thefts prompts bipartisan measures at Colorado Capitol

Automakers say best remedy would be to allow aftermarket parts

By: - February 28, 2022 5:00 am
catalytic converter

Kevin Doyle from Mad Hatter Muffler shop works on replacing a catalytic converter on a truck on Dec. 7, 2009, in Davie, Florida. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

As thefts of catalytic converters rise in Colorado, state lawmakers are proposing policies they hope will reverse the trend.

Catalytic converters, which make a vehicle’s exhaust fumes less polluting, contain precious metals, making them attractive to thieves. But as more and more of the car parts are stolen, and as global supply chains still feel the economic effects of the pandemic, the resulting supply and demand imbalance means it can take weeks to replace a catalytic converter. In the meantime, victims have to scramble to find an alternative means of transportation to work, school or child care.

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Rep. Adrienne Benavidez, an Adams County Democrat who is sponsoring a bill aimed at curbing catalytic converter theft, said her daughter fell victim recently and that it took a month before she could get the part replaced and drive her own vehicle again.

While her daughter was able to rent a car through her insurance, “a lot of people don’t have that option,” Benavidez said. “They aren’t able to get to work. They might not have insurance for that.”

Businesses are hurting, too.

Catalytic converter theft “has increased 5,000% across the state of Colorado,” David Cardella, CEO of the Colorado Independent Automobile Dealers Association, testified during a Tuesday hearing of the House Judiciary Committee. “It has put dealers out of business, and it hurts them financially nearly every day.”

One of the measures that state lawmakers are hoping will remedy the problem is House Bill 22-1217, which requires people buying or selling catalytic converters to record information that might help law enforcement track down thieves. This would include names and contact information of buyers and sellers, the date of each transaction, and the vehicle identification number of the car that the catalytic converter was removed from or any ID number associated with the catalytic converter. Law enforcement would be able to review the transaction records from auto parts and metal recyclers upon request.

The bill is sponsored by Benavidez and Rod Bockenfeld, a Watkins Republican. It passed the House Judiciary Committee last week on an 8-3 vote, and now heads to the House Appropriations Committee for consideration.

An interior view of the dome of the Colorado Capitol, on Oct. 12, 2021. (Quentin Young/Colorado Newsline)

An individual who violated HB-1217’s requirements to keep transaction records or provide them at law enforcement’s request would be guilty of a petty offense, which currently under Colorado law comes with a fine of up to $300, up to a 10-day jail sentence or both. A second violation within three years would constitute a class 5 felony — and a fine of up to $100,000, a jail sentence of up to three years or both.

A person found to have knowingly provided law enforcement false information about catalytic converter transactions would be guilty of a class 2 misdemeanor. Under Colorado law, that level misdemeanor could land a person with a fine up to $1,000, up to a year in jail, or both.

An analysis by nonpartisan legislative staff predicted that HB-1217 would lead to few, if any, new convictions, noting that zero people have been convicted of a similar, existing crime — failing to keep a book or register by a metal salvager — in the last two years.

Besides requiring recycling companies to keep records of transactions involving catalytic converters, HB-1217 would create a three-year grant program to fund public awareness campaigns about catalytic converter theft, mechanical parts to prevent catalytic converter theft, assistance for victims of theft, and catalytic converter identification and tracking. Organizations such as auto repair businesses, law enforcement agencies and local governments would be eligible to apply for grants. The Colorado State Patrol would be in charge of selecting grant recipients and awarding $300,000 in funding.

Cardella said the provisions in HB-1217 would help address the problem but that the most important step would be to allow people to install used aftermarket catalytic converters. Since Jan. 1 of last year, Colorado’s air quality regulations have prohibited that.

“There’s less than 20% of the states in the country that do not allow used catalytic converters to be put on cars,” Cardella said. “Less than 20%, because they know it drives up the supply chain, and ultimately it hurts the consumer, your constituents.”

Another bill making its way through the legislative process would complement the provisions in HB-1217, according to supporters of both bills. But lawmakers scrapped a provision that would have done what Cardella asked for.

Senate Bill 22-9 would amend the definition of “commodity metal” in state law to include rhodium, palladium and platinum-coated components of a catalytic converter. Supporters say this would make it easier to regulate sales of recycled catalytic converter parts and help law enforcement track down thieves. The bill is sponsored by Sens. Joann Ginal, a Democrat from Fort Collins, and Dennis Hisey, a Colorado Springs Republican, along with Reps. Shannon Bird, a Westminster Democrat, and Benavidez.

The original version of SB-9 would have allowed vehicle owners to install used, or “aftermarket,” catalytic converters certified by the state. That part of the bill was removed through an amendment in the Senate Transportation and Energy Committee. After passing that amendment, the committee unanimously approved SB-9 on Feb. 8, sending it to the Senate Appropriations Committee for consideration.

An amendment to HB-1217, which the House Judiciary Committee approved during its hearing Tuesday, would require the state to conduct an audit of auto parts dealers to make sure they complied with the provisions of SB-9.

SB-9 could be amended further before it gets to the House, though, and that gave some lawmakers on the committee pause when it came to a vote on HB-1217. Rep. Terri Carver, a Colorado Springs Republican, said “something absolutely must be done” about catalytic converter thefts, but that she wanted to wait until SB-9 passed the Senate before signaling her support for HB-1217.

“While I’m going to be a no today, I am hopeful to be a yes on both the bills once I actually see SB-9,” Carver said.

Editor’s note: This story was updated at 10:55 a.m. March 1, 2022, to reflect the sentencing requirements for a petty offense as dictated by a state law that took effect March 1.

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Faith Miller
Faith Miller

Reporter Faith Miller covers the Colorado Legislature, immigration and other stories for Colorado Newsline.

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