You’ve probably heard about the crackdown law enforcement is enacting on catalytic converter theft in Arizona. Phoenix police spokesperson Brian Bower is on TV telling people to park in well-lit areas to deter thieves while the governor is signing new bills into law to make it more difficult to buy or sell this device. As such, the penalties for possessing and trading them have also gone up, and the burden of documentation needed to prove a converter was not stolen has grown.
So, with this statewide crackdown, what do you do if you’re accused of stealing a catalytic converter in the Phoenix area?
The first thing you need to do is call the Belén Law Firm. You need a legal team that is familiar with our state laws, the court system, and with defending cases like yours. If you or a loved one is dealing with catalytic converter theft charges in Phoenix, call us at 602-715-0908 to schedule a free consultation today.
What are Catalytic Converters?
Your catalytic converter is a part of your car’s exhaust system. Through a chemical reaction, it converts “bad” hydrocarbons (carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides) in your exhaust into “less bad” carbon dioxide, nitrogen, and water vapor. Well-designed catalytic converters can reduce emissions by about 90%. These devices became mandatory in 1975.
The converter itself is about the size of a loaf of bread and is located between your engine and your muffler. They need heat to function, and as such, are placed as close to the engine as possible. Some cars may even have multiple catalytic converters.
Why are Catalytic Converters Stolen?
Catalytic converter thefts are incredibly common. This is due to the three precious metals located inside the device: platinum, palladium, and rhodium. The prices of these metals have been on a steady rise in the last two decades–rhodium, for instance, reached a high of $26,000 per ounce in 2021. Junkyards actively collect converters, and some companies will buy old converters as scrap. Thieves might sell a stolen converter for a couple hundred dollars, but their buyer may then recover the metals and flip them onto the black market for thousands.
In addition to the potential payout, it’s generally pretty easy to steal these things. Someone with experience can get them off a vehicle in less than two minutes. Additionally, they often lack serial numbers or other identifying information, so it has previously been difficult for police to prosecute a case even if they have the device and the alleged thief in hand.
What Happens to Vehicles Without Catalytic Converters?
Without a catalytic converter, drivers will likely fail an emissions test in Arizona. This is because the converter is responsible for absorbing and converting harmful hydrocarbons, meaning vehicles without them will pollute the air at a much higher rate than vehicles with them.
That isn’t the only issue. Though a vehicle will run without a catalytic converter, it will be much noisier than usual. In addition, in many instances there may be damage to other parts of the car while the converter is being removed.
Cost to Replace Stolen Catalytic Converters
This particular crime has become a significant problem for Phoenix police and police departments across the nation. State Farm reports that they paid out 1.4 million dollars to Arizona residents in 2021 to replace stolen catalytic converters.
Replacing a catalytic converter can cost a driver up to $3,000 out of pocket. If you have comprehensive coverage, your insurance will typically pay for a new converter as well as to repair any damage that occurred to your car during the motor vehicle theft crime.
As mentioned previously, if you do not replace the converter, you will likely be unable to pass an emissions test and therefore unable to get your car inspected or registered. Driving an unregistered car in Arizona carries a fine of up to $300.
Because of the potential dollar amount associated with either replacing stolen converters or driving cars without one, both drivers and insurance companies have supported crackdowns on these thefts and used car parts dealers are being looked at with much more suspicion even when no crime has been committed.
Arizona Catalytic Converter Laws
In May, Phoenix police found a storage unit full of stolen catalytic converters. The raid of this storage unit was part of a months-long investigation into a crime ring conducted by the department. This investigation is just one of many, as police push back against a rise in thefts in the Phoenix area.
Just a month later, Governor Doug Ducey signed a law that prevented anyone but registered, licensed dealers in used car parts to buy, sell, or possess a used catalytic converter in its original condition. Every time someone buys an aftermarket converter, they are required to report a record of sale to the Arizona Department of Public Safety and note any identifying marks or numbers. Anybody else found to be in possession of one can be fined up to $4,000.
Essentially, if you can’t provide documentation that the sale is legit and that nobody stole the converter in your possession off someone’s car, you won’t be able to sell used catalytic converters.
The new law also gives officers more power to investigate scrap metal businesses or online listings.
Who Does The New Anti-Theft Law Actually Impact?
Catching someone in the act of stealing a converter is difficult, and once it’s off the car and in someone’s possession, it’s almost impossible to prove it was stolen. After all, there are no serial numbers or identifying markers unless the driver has added them aftermarket.
For this reason, the new law specifically impacts possession. Therefore, if you are found with a used converter in your trunk and could not provide documentation that it had not been stolen, you would not be prosecuted specifically for stealing it, but rather for possessing it without the proper documentation.
Possible Defenses for Catalytic Converter Theft
Even if it seems like you’ve been caught red-handed, working with a skilled Phoenix criminal defense lawyer could help you avoid jail time and steep fines. For instance, if someone simply told you to hold onto a converter and you did not know it was stolen, you might have some recourse. Additionally, if police violate your rights during any searches or seizures, you could also have a valid defense.
What are the Penalties for Stealing a Catalytic Converter?
Before the new law was signed, there were already laws against buying or selling used catalytic converters. However, being in possession of them, or soliciting them, was not illegal. The new Arizona law attempts to make it much more difficult for these black market dealers to possess the converters in the first place, therefore deterring thieves from stealing them.
Violation of the new anti-theft laws is a Class 1 misdemeanor. For the most part, that means some very punitive fines and the potential loss of business licenses if you operate a scrap metal or used car parts business.
As per the new law, for a first offense, the penalty could be up to $500. For any subsequent violation, that fine goes up to a steep $2,000, as well as revocation of your business license. For a third violation, that $2,000 fine doubles.
Phoenix Defense Attorney for Catalytic Converter Theft in Phoenix
Belén Olmedo Guerra has defended countless theft cases in the Phoenix area. Our aggressive, competent attorneys will work tirelessly to achieve the best possible outcome in your case. If you or a loved one are fighting charges of catalytic converter theft, call a top Phoenix theft defense lawyer the Belén Law Firm at 602-715-0908 to schedule a free consultation.