ENCINITAS — The Encinitas City Council this week began the process of drafting an ordinance similar to a law in neighboring Carlsbad to help crack down on citywide catalytic converter thefts.
According to the San Diego Sheriff’s Department, as of Nov. 2021, the department had received 461 reports of stolen catalytic converters citywide, part of a nationwide spike in theft of the costly automotive device.
Catalytic converters, a key part of both hybrid-electric and gas-powered vehicles’ exhaust systems since 1975, help reduce emissions by taking dangerous pollutants — carbon monoxide, nitrogen gas, nitrogen oxides and hydrocarbons — and using catalysts to “convert” them into safer gases, such as carbon dioxide.
During the pandemic, there was a significant spike in converter thefts due to the presence of rhodium, a precious metal that helps clean pollutants in the car’s exhaust system.
In January, the Carlsbad City Council passed an ordinance making it illegal to possess a catalytic converter without proof of ownership. The ordinance was adopted in an effort to curb thefts and subsequent “fencing,” or buying and reselling stolen devices.
“We’ve seen the number of catalytic converters that are stolen in the county of San Diego going up,” Deputy Mayor Joe Mosca, who brought the item to the city council Wednesday night, said. “When they are stolen it’s about a $2000 loss to the victim. And we’ve seen an increase in these crimes.”
Aside from the rhodium found in the converters, both platinum and palladium can be found and sold at high prices. For example, palladium is currently valued at $2,550 per ounce. Rhodium is an even more precious metal being valued as high as $18,850 per ounce.
The Carlsbad ordinance was created in an effort to curb the number of thefts by making it easier for catalytic converter thieves to be charged with a crime. In most cases, there are no identifying marks on the device, making it difficult to return to a victim should a stolen converter be recovered.
“What the ordinance does is it says regardless of whether or not there is a victim if there is a catalytic converter and you cannot prove that it was on your car or that you own it then it could be prosecuted by the city attorney’s office,” Mosca said.
Mosca said the ordinance has already been successful in the city of Carlsbad.
The council decided unanimously to move forward with the ordinance, handing it off to city staff to adjust the Carlsbad ordinance in any way necessary to make it fit with the city of Encinitas.
“There is very little work that we have to do,” Mosca said. “Because the ordinance has already been drafted by the city of Carlsbad, what I would suggest is we direct our city staff to mold that ordinance to meet the goals of our city.”
There is no timeframe for when the ordinance will return for the council’s approval.
Thieves can fetch between $300 to $1,200 per converter depending on how many metals are in each one. Second-generation Toyota Prius models (2004-09) have become hot targets for criminals due to their higher concentration of precious metals.
According to a Highway Loss Data Institute study, these slightly older Prius hybrids are “40 times more likely to be subject to theft claims than the average vehicle.”
“I own two Priuses which makes me quite a target for catalytic converter theft. So I’ve been worried about it,” Councilmember Tony Kranz said.