• Wed. Dec 6th, 2023

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Catalytic converter thefts in CT prompt lawmakers to fight back

HARTFORD — With only mixed results in discouraging the wave of catalytic converter thefts from vehicles for the value of their precious metals, the General Assembly is considering a proposal to create wider, multi-state registration requirements for auto dealers and junk yards to confirm the ownership both at the initial sale and afterwards.

Under a bill in the General Assembly’s Public Safety Committee, last year’s legislation requiring information on catalytic converter provenance, would require cooperation from more neighboring states, where thieves seem to have migrated with their stolen equipment, despite similar identification rules in New York, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

While the proposal was supported by the AAA during a public hearing, auto professionals and insurers oppose the legislation as now written, for an alleged potential to increase the expense of used cars and making state car dealers less competitive at a time when the state’s 8,400 annual stolen vehicles is even more of a problem for residents.

Committee leaders admitted that they are grappling with the both issues of stolen cars and removed catalytic converters.

“The value of precious metals has risen, making this crime more appealing, and thieves will often receive $50-250 per converter,” said Alec Slatky, managing director at AAA Northeast and Tracy Noble, manager of public and governmental affairs for the AAA Club Alliance, in joint written testimony.

“Unfortunately for the victims of this crime, they may have to spend upwards of $1,000 to replace the part,” Slatky and Noble said. “With so many states taking action to tackle the issue of catalytic converter theft, now is the time to take stock of how well these laws are working before considering any individual state law as a model.”

In fact, the higher-end Audi models can cost as much as $9,000 to replace catalytic converters that can take thieves less about two minutes to rip out with a portable saw, said Garrison Hudkins, third-generation president of the East Windsor-based Southern Auto Auction, who warned that even etching identification numbers on the catalytic converter casings might not deter thieves who can simply remove those heat shields and sell off the precious metals inside.

Preferred models seem to be Hondas and the Toyota Prius, said Hudkins, whose company processes thousands of vehicles from the country each week for the wholesale market. As the bill is currently written, etching ID numbers before auctions would add hundreds of worker hours per week, and add as much as three-percent to the costs of vehicles at his resale auctions, he said, warning of unintended consequences.

“This regulatory burden would be a competitive barrier for our Connecticut-based businesses,” Hudkins said, stressing the need for a wholesale exemption to the proposal, which would include insurance discounts for vehicle owners who etch vehicle identification numbers on catalytic converters, one of which he brought to show the committee.

“You’re not talking about stopping people doing this, you’re talking about wherever these parts end up, there not being a market for it,” Hudkins said.

“Trying to find the right solution and the right balance is what we’re trying to do,” said Rep. Patrick Boyd, D-Pomfret, co-chairman of the committee, which has a March 16 deadline to act.

Nine pieces of testimony opposed the legislation while two supported it, including Milton Rodriquez, whose Cheshire company provides custom identification numbers to discourage theft. He suggested that if more parts of vehicles were etched with traceable ID numbers, there would be fewer stolen parts.

Brooke Foley, general counsel for the Insurance Association of Connecticut, warned that anti-theft discounts for a specific part of a car might not be actuarially justified.

“Moreover, the actual risk exposure for catalytic converter theft would differ quite a bit depending on the vehicle, but application of a discount would not be as fine-tuned,” Foley told the committee in the Legislative Office Building. “This would make assessing each policyholder’s risk more cumbersome and would result in disparities for consumers. The sports car owner pays a much higher premium for comprehensive coverage overall, and therefore would get a higher discount, even though the risk exposure is lower for the sports car than it would be for the pickup truck.”

[email protected]  Twitter: @KenDixonCT


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