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.
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).
A dead registration is cause enough for being pulled over by an armed government worker – probably one who couldn’t be bothered to deal with your call about the guy you watched crawl under your car with a Sawzall, who made off with the cats the state now says you’re obliged to pay to have replaced – whatever it costs.
You may be reluctant to pay that cost given the not-small probability that a new/replacement cat is likely to be stolen by another guy with a Sawzall.
There is no limit to how many times this could happen and it is likely to happen again precisely because there is little to dissuade a guy with a Sawzall from crawling under your car, again.
If you drive more than six months without the state’s approval sticker, your car is subject to seizure – styled “impoundment.” The cost to get it out of the impound lot could easily exceed the $950 no-worries threshold for the guy who made off with your vehicle’s cats in the first place.
The usual explanation-justification for this is that it is a great environmental crime to drive a cat-less car because of all the emissions being belched into the air. It simply cannot be tolerated. But if so, why is the state so indifferent to the Sawzall guys who are responsible for all of this emitting? Why are they effectively exempted from any meaningful consequences for committing exactly the same of “environmental crime” that – if preformed by an exhaust shop – would trigger a body-armored/AR-toting Hut! Hut! Hut! from the same not-so-good-offices of government?
The same government that has made catalytic converter theft such an enticing prospect by making it such a low-risk project? No questions-asked at the recycling center; no CARB ID needed to cash in that “spare” catalytic converter . . . or even a couple dozen of them.
Many years ago, I got to know Sam Francis, who was a columnist for The Washington Times. I was an editorial writer at the same paper. Sam talked about his concept of “anarcho-tyranny,” by which he meant deliberately encouraged lawlessness by the state for the sake of its power, which it increased by selectively tyrannizing those it regarded as a threat to its power.
The object being to demoralize the latter – by using the chaos created by the former.
On the upside – once one realizes the nature of this game – one tends to no longer feel obliged to play by the “rules” of this game.
What was it Mencken said about every normal man sometimes feeling the urge to spit on his hands and hoist the black flag?
Perhaps to the sweet song of an exhaust sans cat…
. . .
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