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Highlights of BAR catalytic converter theft prevention and outreach presentation

Theft prevention devices and converter identification etching may result in Smog Check failures

Rancho Cordova, Calif.—The California Bureau of Automotive Repair’s (BAR) Terry O’Neill of the Engineering and Research Branch recently gave a presentation at a BAR Advisory Group Meeting on catalytic converter theft prevention and outreach. The following are highlights.

Catalytic converter theft

  • Reported to be about 1,600 converter thefts per month statewide.
  • Theft of an under-vehicle converter takes only minutes with basic tools such as a pipe wrench or cordless Sawzall.
  • Targeted vehicles are typically Toyota and Honda products. The converters on these vehicles are commonly certified as a Super Low Emission Vehicle and coated with precious metals such as Rhodium which has a value at more than $14,000 per ounce.
  • Repair cost can be as much as $4,000 and commonly include damage to surrounding pipes, wiring and oxygen sensors.

Converter thefts have created challenges in these areas

  • Repair Procedures: A shortage of converters has resulted in emergency repair considerations.
  • Theft Prevention Device Education: Converter theft prevention devices appearing on the market are potentially unsafe or may result in a Smog Check failure if not properly installed.
  • Smog Check Testing Procedures: Temporarily approved alternative converters are outside of the normal Executive Order (EO) number lookup procedures. Additionally, theft prevention devices and converter identification etching may result in Smog Check failures.

Converter replacement alternatives

  • Aftermarket converter with an appropriate Executive Order (EO) number. Consumers are finding limited applications and that no parts have been approved for their vehicle.
  • Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) converter from the dealer. Consumers are finding that some converters are on back order with no reasonable supply date.
  • The State Referee is seeing as many as 500 vehicles per month that an OEM or aftermarket converter is not available as a result of theft.
  • If the State Referee finds that the needed part is on an extended back order, a converter that is identified by CARB as closely resembling the unavailable OEM part may be allowed. This process is only utilized when the State Referee finds unacceptable converter shortages.

Alternative converter approval process

  • Once a consumer discovers that a converter is unavailable for their vehicle, they are instructed to contact the State Referee for guidance which may include converter alternatives.
  • After the approved and suitable alternative aftermarket converter is installed, the vehicle is then inspected by the State Referee where a BAR Information Label is placed on the driver’s door post. The label shows BAR approval and is for the life of the vehicle.
  • Importantly, the EO number is approved for use on this vehicle as exactly shown on the label. Additionally, once inventories are replenished, the alternative converter process will not be available for future vehicles.

Theft deterrence

  • Consumers can help prevent catalytic converter thefts by parking in well-lit areas, installing motion sensing alarm systems, etching the converter shell with a vehicle identification or license plate number.
  • Acceptable theft prevention devices appearing on the market include steel cages, chains, cables, and shields; all of which may make the converters difficult to steal. Permanent devices must only be placed around and not touching the converter shell.
  • The theft prevention measures should not be welded to the converter and must retain complete visibility of the part for Smog Check purposes, and that proper ventilation is maintained to prevent a safety concern.

Smog Check visual inspection

Example of converter welding that is not acceptable.
Example of a cage that allows visibility and does not interfere with the converter.
Example of a shield that may require removal prior to a Smog Check.
Example of a converter that has been etched with a vehicle license plate. The performance of the converter has not been compromised and is not a Smog Check failure.

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