Senator Thomas J. Umberg (D-Santa Ana) announced that his Senate Bill (SB) 366, which addresses a massive spike in catalytic converter thefts and extends California’s Vehicle Dismantling Strike Team, was signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom on Wednesday.
“Unlicensed auto dismantling is an environmental justice, economic, and public health issue,” said Senator Umberg. “SB 366 adds on to the important work of my colleague, Assemblymember Santiago, and addresses some newer issues that have arisen pertaining to catalytic converter theft. We owe it to our communities to be more responsible, as a state, in regulating these illegal activities.”
A significant spike in environmental and public health damage to inner cities attributed to illegal auto dismantling resulted in urgent action from the Legislature in 2016, which resulted in the signing of Assembly Bill 1858 (Santiago). That measure required the DMV to coordinate enforcement and compliance activity related to unlicensed vehicle dismantling with other state agencies as a part of the Vehicle Dismantling Industry Strike Team. Since then, there have been over 40 investigations throughout California, which have resulted in the identification of 824 unlicensed dismantlers.
Unlicensed auto dismantlers play a critical role in the proliferation of catalytic converter thefts throughout California. Thieves target the vehicle exhaust emission control device because it contains precious metals and can be scrapped for quick profit. In Los Angeles County alone, reports of catalytic converter thefts skyrocketed 400% in 2020 compared to the year before, according to the agency. Certain cars — like the first-generation Prius and the Ford F-250– tend to be targeted more than others because their catalytic converters are known to contain more precious metal. With this in mind, SB 366 adds the number of investigations that resulted in an enforcement action for theft of a catalytic converter or purchase, receipt, possession, or sale of a stolen catalytic converter to a Task Force report.
“For whatever reason, car part thieves are perceived as empty headed,” said Senator Umberg. “The reality, however, is that catalytic converter theft can be quite lucrative – but only if aided by illegal auto dismantlers like those targeted by the Vehicle Dismantling Industry Strike Team.”
Unfortunately, the underground economy in California continues to be a huge dilemma facing the auto recycling industry. It is estimated that at least 40% of all end-of-life vehicles are being processed through a thriving underground economy of unlicensed and unregulated auto dismantlers. SB 366 maintains momentum on stopping this issue by extending the Strike Team’s work for 3 more years.
The vehicles processed through unlicensed dismantlers represent nearly $100 million in uncollected sales taxes and fees, over 2 million unaccounted for tires, and over 2 million gallons of unaccounted for hazardous fluids along with materials that require special handling, such as, lead acid batteries, mercury switches, catalytic convertors, coolant, lithium-ion batteries and freon.
The Senator has indicated that signage of SB 366 has only cemented his resolve to further tackle catalytic converter theft in California. “This is really just the second step for all of us – there is much more that California can be doing to protect consumers and automobile owners. I fully intend to introduce future legislation on this subject and work with the Strike Team and other state and local stakeholders on those proposals,” noted Senator Umberg.