All About California’s Catalytic Converter Laws

You’ll need a State Air Resources Board-approved catalytic converter to operate a vehicle in California. Keep your catalytic safe from theft with these tips!
Written by Talullah Blanco
Reviewed by Melanie Reiff
All vehicles must have a State Air Resources Board-approved catalytic converter under California law. 
The catalytic converter filters exhaust from your car to keep the air clean all while improving your fuel mileage. And this crucial auto part may not even cross your mind until your
catalytic converter is stolen
from your vehicle.
Here to answer all your questions about California’s catalytic converter laws and give you advice on how to keep yours from being stolen is
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content. Read on for everything you need to know about catalytic converter laws in California. While we're at it, we'll even show you how to save on
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Do I need a catalytic converter in California?

Yes! According to California’s
Health and Safety Code
, all vehicles must have their OEM catalytic converter or an aftermarket State Air Resources Board-approved catalytic converter that is correctly installed and in operating condition. California state law also makes it illegal to disconnect, modify, or alter a catalytic converter. 
While you should be familiar with California’s catalytic converter laws, there are federal laws to keep in mind, as well. The EPA announced a set of rules regarding catalytic converter replacement in 1986 which still stand today. Under federal law your catalytic converter must be: 
  • In the same location as the original
  • The same type as the original
  • The correct model for your vehicle
  • Properly installed 
  • Accompanied by the installer’s warranty information card
Your vehicle will function properly without a catalytic converter if it’s been stolen. However, it is still illegal to drive without one in the state of California if you are the victim of a catalytic converter theft. If this is the case, you should tow your vehicle to the nearest repair shop to have it replaced.

Penalties for driving without a catalytic converter

If you are pulled over and caught driving without a catalytic converter you’ll have to pay a $250 fine—not to mention, you’ll fail emissions testing which could lead to additional penalties!
But if you remove or alter your catalytic converter the penalties will increase significantly. You’ll face the maximum fine of $10,000 and have to appear in court

Why are catalytic converters being stolen?

A stolen catalytic converter can fetch a pretty penny because it is comprised of valuable metals like platinum, rhodium, and palladium. The average catalytic converter can be sold for up to $300 while hybrid converters (watch out Prius owners!) can go for almost $1,500!
Not only are they worth a lot of money, but catalytic converters are also easy to steal. Located under your vehicle, thieves can slide under your car and steal your catalytic converter without much trouble. 

How to keep your catalytic converter safe

After reading this, you’re probably running to check if your catalytic converter is still there! If it is here are three tips to keep your catalytic converter safe:
  • Get an anti-theft device. For just $300, you can have a metal cage installed around your catalytic converter and never have to worry about theft again!
  • Find a safe parking space. If you can’t park in a garage or driveway, park in a well-lit parking area to deter theft. 
  • Engrave your catalytic converter with your license plate number. You can etch your license or VIN number into your catalytic converter to make it difficult to sell, which will discourage thieves. 

Is catalytic converter theft covered by insurance?

Catalytic theft will be covered by your insurance if you have
comprehensive coverage
, which will cover replacement costs. 
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Yes, not only do most states, including California, require catalytic converters to pass emissions tests, but they are also required by federal law. In fact, the Environmental Protect Agency (EPA) can fine you for driving without a catalytic converter.
Catalytic converters are being stolen at alarming rates! In 2020 there were 14,443 catalytic converter thefts, and these numbers are increasing each year.
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