All About New York’s Catalytic Converter Laws

If your vehicle is newer than 1981, you’ll need an EPA-approved catalytic converter. Follow our tips to keep it safe from theft!
Written by Matt Terzi
Reviewed by Melanie Reiff
background
New York
’s catalytic converter laws are centered around ensuring these components are certified by the California Air Resources Board, better known as “CARB”, or have 50-State EPA certifications. They’re also designed to help combat rising catalytic converter theft.
Catalytic converters are essential exhaust components that protect all of us from the dangerous, toxic gasses cars emit without them. And if your car was built with a catalytic converter but doesn’t have one, you aren’t going to pass your emissions inspection.
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Do I need a catalytic converter in New York?

Vehicles in New York State need to pass a yearly inspection, and
emissions testing
plays a major role in that process. If your car doesn't pass emissions testing, it will fail its inspection overall.
And without a functional catalytic converter, your car won’t pass a car inspection in New York. Some cars are exempt from emissions testing, like electric cars or older cars from before the days of these components.
Only OEM—original equipment manufacturer—catalytic converters, and aftermarket ones certified by CARB, are legally allowed to be sold or installed on cars in New York State. 
There are also federal laws and regulations establishing rules about catalytic converters and their use. These laws dictate your catalytic converter must be:
  • Installed in the same location as the one your car came with originally 
  • Be the same type as the original catalytic converter
  • The correct model your car needs
  • Properly installed on the vehicle
  • Accompanied by a warranty information card from the installer
You'll
know if your catalytic converter was stolen
, or if your catalytic converter has failed because you’ll notice the engine is louder, especially as you accelerate. Plus, you’ll usually also smell a horrible stench from the exhaust. If your car is experiencing these symptoms, visit a mechanic as soon as possible.

Penalties for driving without a catalytic converter

Many people believe you can be fined anywhere from $500 to $25,000 if you’re caught driving without a catalytic converter. But that’s not actually true.
These fines are the result of stores, mechanics, and other sellers selling, installing, offering, or advertising catalytic converters that haven't been approved by CARB for use on vehicles from 1993, 1994, 1996, or any year after 1996. Since June of 2013, it’s also been illegal to install used, recycled, or salvaged catalytic converters.
There aren’t actually any fines for driving without a catalytic converter unless your car’s exhaust has been intentionally illegally modified. Removing the catalytic converter on purpose, or making any other illegal modification to your car’s exhaust, can result in fines up to $1,000.
The more likely penalty for driving without a catalytic converter is that your car will fail its New York State inspection unless you pay to have it repaired. If your car fails its inspection, you can’t have it registered, so it’s important you get this taken care of as quickly as possible!

Why are catalytic converters being stolen?

You know those old cartoons where the antagonist smells someone’s freshly baked apple pie sitting on the windowsill, and they float toward it on a trail of scents and then steal it? That’s basically a catalytic converter to someone willing to steal one.
Catalytic converters are worth serious cash, bringing in $200 to $300. Hybrids like the
Toyota Prius
can bring in close to $1,500, which is why they're some of the
cars most targeted by catalytic converter theives
. Highly valuable metals like platinum, palladium, and rhodium are used to build these parts.
They’re also easy to steal. A nimble and experienced thief can slide under your vehicle and remove your catalytic converter in seconds, causing thousands of dollars in collateral damage to other parts of your car in the process.
New York’s recent catalytic converter laws have made it considerably harder to sell these components, by prohibiting and heavily regulating their purchase and sale. But these laws wouldn’t stop someone in New York from driving outside of the state to sell them.

How to keep your catalytic converter safe

Now for the good news: it’s easier to protect a catalytic converter than it is to steal one. And while these options might cost money, they’re a far sight cheaper than not only replacing your catalytic converter but repairing any parts destroyed by a thief too.
  • Park in a safe area that’s well-lit, preferably with minimal space along the sides of your car. Security cameras are a big perk!
  • Equip an anti-theft device on your catalytic converter. There are special metal cages that protect the converter from theft. They can be fairly expensive to buy and install, costing as much as $300 or even more, but that’s a lot cheaper than thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars in damages.
  • Engrave your VIN or license plate number on the catalytic converter. Sounds crazy, right? But this deters thieves and makes the converter more difficult to sell. Consider having your vehicle identification number or license plate number enraged or etched into the converter itself.

Is catalytic converter theft covered by insurance?

If your catalytic converter is stolen, your insurance will only cover it if you have
comprehensive coverage
. New York’s minimum
liability coverage
isn’t going to help.
Comprehensive insurance covers you in the event of theft, vandalism, storm damage, fires, natural disasters, and more. It’s often a requirement of car loans and leases, so if you have either of those, it’s a good idea to see if your insurance policy already includes comprehensive coverage.

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FAQs

Yes, they are. Federal laws and many states have made catalytic converters mandatory on vehicles, and new cars aren’t allowed to be sold without them. In New York, you can be fined up to $1,000 for intentionally removing a catalytic converter or making other illegal adjustments to your car’s exhaust system.
Unfortunately yes, people are stealing catalytic converters. In 2020 more than 14,400 catalytic converts were taken from unsuspecting drivers. The real number may never be known, however, as drivers without comprehensive coverage are less likely to report the thefts and end up paying for the repairs out of pocket.
Hybrids have the most valuable catalytic converters, so the Toyota Prius—the most easily-identifiable hybrid on the road—is often targeted. Crossovers, SUVs, and pickup trucks are also frequently stolen from as they’re higher from the ground and easier to get underneath.
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