All About Oregon’s Catalytic Converter Laws

All non-exempt vehicles in Oregon are required to have catalytic converters. If yours breaks, gets stolen, or is removed, you could face legal trouble.
Written by Patrick Price
Reviewed by Melanie Reiff
background
In Oregon, you are required to have a fully-functional catalytic converter if you’re going to be driving on the highway—unless your ride is a registered special interest vehicle or a properly maintained antique show car. 
Apart from the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) federal catalytic converter regulations (which apply to drivers in every state), car owners in the Beaver State are also required to follow some state-specific rules, which are laid out in chapter 815 of the Oregon Revised Statutes (ORS).
Under the ORS, you can get in legal trouble any time that your converter is missing or malfunctioning—even if the converter is stolen at no fault of your own. Sadly, these parts are easy to steal and pretty valuable, so catalytic converter thefts are extremely common. 
To avoid legal trouble and unexpected expenses, it’s vital that you familiarize yourself with Oregon catalytic converter laws and some anti-theft precautions. That’s why
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Do I need a catalytic converter in Oregon?

Yes. As mentioned above, the ORS requires that all cars have working catalytic converters installed. The state of Oregon views any issues with the converter as your responsibility—you’re expected to keep it properly maintained and securely attached to your car. 
If your converter is missing or broken, for any reason, you break the law and will likely receive a citation. 
You commit an offense known as “operation without proper exhaust system” if you drive on the highway while any of the following are true: 
  • You remove the converter or cause it to be removed
  • The converter is not in good working order
  • The catalytic converter and exhaust system are not in constant operation 
  • Your exhaust system has not met the minimum noise emission standards as established by the
    Department of Environmental Quality
    (DEQ)
For most vehicles, driving on an Oregon highway in any of the above situations will constitute a violation. However, there are a few exceptions that you should be aware of. Special interest vehicles and antique show vehicles are not required to have catalytic converters. These include heavy farming equipment, road maintenance vehicles, or vehicles manufactured before 1977 that are not used for everyday purposes. 
Besides the Oregon statutes, there are also
federal laws
regarding catalytic converters. As far as the state government is concerned, you actually only need to have a converter installed if you’re going to be driving on the highway—but since 1986, federal law has required cars to have a fully-functional catalytic converter regardless of where or how far they’re driving.
Moreover, your converter has to meet these requirements: 
  • Your converter must be of the same type and installed in the same location as the converter that the car came with.
  • If you need to replace your OEM catalytic converter for any reason, you must do so with the correct model for your specific vehicle. 
  • The catalytic converter must be properly installed and working correctly. 
  • You are required to keep the installer’s warranty information card for the converter with the part at all times.  
While your car will technically run without a converter, it will have dramatically reduced fuel economy and will not be street legal. If your converter breaks or is stolen, make sure to get it replaced as soon as possible!

Penalties for driving without a catalytic converter

So, what actually happens if you are caught driving without a catalytic converter? In Oregon, that is largely up to the discretion of a judge. The fine that you’ll be charged can be any amount between $85 and $500—though $265 is a pretty common sentence. 
Fortunately, unlike many states, Oregon state law allows the judge to dismiss the citation if you can provide adequate evidence that the issue with your converter has been resolved to the full satisfaction of all legal requirements. 
So, if you've already received a citation, make sure to repair or replace your catalytic converter right away and before your court date. If you’re lucky, the judge will be in a forgiving mood and dismiss your citation. 
Don’t go breathing a sigh of relief just yet, though. The fines and penalties for breaking catalytic converter laws in Oregon are more lenient than those in most states—but that’s only if you’re caught and cited for breaking the state law. If you’re cited for a violation of the EPA’s federal regulations, things won’t be so easy (or cheap). 
If you’re cited on the federal level, and you can make a reasonably believable argument that you were not responsible for the loss and/or damage of the catalytic converter, you’ll face a fine of up to $250
However, if it can be proved that you intentionally removed the converter, you’ll be looking at a penalty as high as $10,000—not to mention you’ll fail your emission test and almost certainly lose your car’s registration. 

Why are catalytic converters being stolen?

Catalytic converters are the perfect target for thieves. Converters are attached to the bottom of your car, so someone won’t need to break into your car or even pop your hood in order to remove the part. 
In fact, an experienced thief can slide under your car, remove the catalytic converter, slide out, and then saunter off—all in under five minutes and without setting off the car alarm! 
On top of this, catalytic converters are relatively small, light, valuable, and easy to sell without being tracked in any way. In short, catalytic converters are a dream come true for small-time crooks. 
Depending on the type of car that it’s from, a thief can sell a stolen catalytic converter for anywhere from $300 to $1,500. And, since converters don’t have your Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) or your license plate number on them, a thief can sell stolen converters to legitimate used auto-part resellers without the owner being any the wiser. 

How to keep your catalytic converter safe

Now that you know how common, easy, and lucrative it is to steal catalytic converters—not to mention how much trouble you can get in if someone steals yours—you’re probably wondering what you can do to protect your car’s converter
There is no sure-fire trick that can guarantee that your catalytic converter remains untouched, but there are some precautions you can take to minimize that risk:
  • Always park in well-lit and high-traffic areas, preferably ones with security cameras. The more crowded the parking lot is, the more trouble a thief will have stealing your converter.
  • Engrave your license plate number, VIN, or both into your catalytic converter. You can just scratch it in yourself using a key, knife, or any other sharp metal lying around. If a thief sees that your converter has been marked (and therefore will be traceable), they’ll most likely move on to another less troublesome car. 
  • Purchase and install an aftermarket anti-theft device. As has been mentioned, stealing a catalytic converter usually won’t set off the alarm of any of your car’s OEM security systems. However, you can purchase components specifically designed to keep your converter safe.

Is catalytic converter theft covered by insurance?

As you likely already know, not all
car insurance
is created equal. Some policies include what’s called
comprehensive coverage
—this is the type of coverage that you’ll need to be protected if someone steals your catalytic converter. 
If your policy has comprehensive coverage, you’ll just need to file a claim to your insurance provider and they should pay for the cost of the new part as well as the labor to have it installed. 
If, on the other hand, your policy does not include comprehensive coverage, you’ll be on your own to pay for the related expenses out of pocket.

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FAQs

Yes. Both Oregon state and federal laws require you to have a properly maintained and full-functional catalytic converter on your car. Failure to do so will put you at risk of fines, loss of registration, and significantly diminished fuel economy.
Simply put, catalytic converters are easy to steal, easy to sell, hard to trace, and worth a pretty sizable amount of money.
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