A Catalytic Conversion

California is a hot spot for curbside theft of catalytic converters – the main component of a vehicle’s emissions control system. It’s big business. The platinum and palladium within each cat are well worth the less than five minutes of effort it takes for a guy with a Sawzall to crawl underneath your car and crawl back out with yours in his paws, off to a recycler who’ll pay him (no questions asked) the roughly $80-$100 in scrap value for each one.

It beats minimum wage. 

Especially given it’s not a crime. Well, not in the sense of their being any meaningful legal repercussions for getting caught crawling under people’s cars with a Sawzall and making off with their cats. Because in California, the theft of property valued at less than $950 is treated as a misdemeanor – like jaywalking – and not worth the trouble to investigate much less prosecute.

This is interesting, given the trouble the owner of a vehicle sans cats faces from the very same government that mandates them – and which can’t be troubled to do much (if anything) about those who steal them.

It’s very illegal in CA to drive a car shorn of its cats – even if you didn’t do the shearing. And California isn’t insouciant about enforcing that.

Regardless of the cost.

There is no monetary threshold above or below which the state will turn a blind eye, here. Because the cost of obedience is limitless.

But only non-criminals are made to pay it.

The hapless victim of a cat-snatch who can’t afford to have a replacement cat installed – a couple hundred bucks on the low end, if he is lucky enough to own an older model car that only has one converter – and let’s say he puts a cheap section of pipe in place, even if just temporarily, in order to be able to keep on driving – runs the risk of being identified as cat-less by roadside emissions sniffers, which can tell when a cat-less car passes by.

A camera screenshots the offending car’s license plate and the owner is sent a letter requiring him to bring the car in for what is styled “smog check.” Which the car must pass – regardless of cost – in order for it to be anointed as legally usable.

The cat-less car’s owner must either pay to have a new cat (and peripherals, such as oxygen sensors, which often get snatched along with the cat) installed in order to be allowed to continue using his vehicle or run the risk of being caught using it illegally, sans renewed registration and up-to-date “smog” certification.

If he flouts that law – and gets caught – the consequences are considerably more serious than those faced by the thief who stole the cat in the first place. Especially because the likelihood of the cat-theft-victim being caught is much greater.

In this case, the state is vigilant, constantly looking for such scofflaws via a network of cameras and ALPRs (automated license plate readers).

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