A car’s catalytic converter — which helps curb harmful emissions — contains precious metals more valuable than gold.

And thieves have long known that.

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“Because of the precious metals they contain, catalytic converter theft has unfortunately grown sharply in Oregon in the last year,” said Sen. Chris Gorsek, D-Troutdale, speaking on the Senate floor.

It takes mere minutes to saw off a catalytic converter. Selling it can summon several hundred dollars at a scrapyard. As a result, the illicit resale market in Oregon and elsewhere has exploded.

On Wednesday afternoon, Oregon state senators approved Senate Bill 803 with the hopes of tamping down on the theft. The measure, which passed the Senate 25-2, would prohibit scrap metal business from purchasing the converters except from a commercial seller. It would also require that scrap metal businesses retain the vehicle identification number and license number associated with the converter, making it easier to track.

The bill now heads to the House.

An image of the bottom of a car

The bottom of a vehicle whose catalytic converter was stolen.

Seth Sawyers / Flickr

A couple of weeks ago, Nick Caleb and his girlfriend left their home in Northeast Portland and headed out to a relatively rural spot in the Columbia River Gorge for a hike.

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When they returned to their car, a Honda CRV, about two hours later, they noticed pieces of a saw and blades strewn about around the car.

“It looked like someone just hacked away, wires and pipes were all over the place,” Caleb said.

The catalytic converter was gone. Caleb and his girlfriend drove carefully and noisily home.

The catalytic converters, which have been installed on most gasoline vehicles, are coated with metals like palladium, rhodium and platinum, which help remove pollutants from a vehicle’s exhaust system.

House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, submitted testimony in favor of the bill. She noted the issue has long been a problem in Oregon.

“In 2009, the Legislature changed the law to prohibit people getting paid in cash for the metal they wanted to sell, and this made a big difference,” Kotek wrote. “But stealing catalytic converters is on the rise again.”

It’s true. Just ask Emily Herbert, whose catalytic converter was recently stolen from her Prius.

The Prius had served her well since she bought it in 2001. Later, she gave it to her son to use. She wrote in public testimony supporting the bill, “It would have served our family for many additional years, had the theft not occurred.”

Replacing catalytic converters is sometimes cost prohibitive.

“Now my son, who lives several miles away from me, has only a huge van to drive, so I shall see him less and have to make other arrangements to get groceries,” Herbert wrote.

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