(WJW) – It is a growing problem in Northeast Ohio and nationwide, and it could be very costly and inconvenient if you become a victim. 

Ohio lawmakers are pushing a bill that would increase the penalties for stealing catalytic converters from vehicles in the state.

The bill is sponsored by Republican State Representative Bob Young of Green in Summit County.

It has 21 co-sponsors all trying to put the brakes on a costly crime where catalytic converter thieves are making quick cash with little or no scrutiny.

Nearly every day in Ohio, thieves steal catalytic converters from underneath vehicles, often in less than a minute, and sell them to scrap yards, rarely getting caught.

“I hear from prosecutors across the state… Metropolitan, rural areas, that this is a problem in their communities right now,” testified Louis Tobin, with the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association.

Business owner John Marshall testified Wednesday before the Ohio House Criminal Justice Committee in Columbus in support of House Bill 408, which would make stealing catalytic converters a felony.

“Over the past twelve months, we have personally observed a dramatic increase in these thefts, including 44 incidents impacting just our company. We have also documented another 87 thefts impacting our customers,” says Marshall, co-owner of Grismer Tire.

His company is located in Southwest Ohio, but it is a huge problem here in Northeast Ohio too.

In January 2020, an Akron agency that helps people with disabilities had a total of 18 catalytic converters stolen two weekends in a row.

Last November, thieves stole almost three dozen of the valuable parts from Cleveland school buses parked in Cuyahoga Heights.

Just this February, two people were arrested in Westlake, accused of a week-long catalytic converter theft spree.

“Catalytic converters are required exhaust system components of modern gasoline engines. They mitigate harmful emissions from being sent into the air from the exhaust system of vehicles,” says Lt. Michael Binder of the Reynoldsburg Police Department.

Police say the value of metals used to make the converters have increased, especially for rhodium, which was worth about $700 an ounce in 2016 and is now worth $18,000 per ounce.

In 2018, there were nearly 1,300 insurance claims for stolen converters.

In 2019, that number climbed to almost 3,400.

In 2020, there were more than 14,000 claims.

“The current law allows anyone to sell a catalytic converter to a scrap metal dealer and get cash at the time of the sale. The law does nothing to require proof of ownership or where the converter came from or limit the number of converters that can be sold,” said Lt. Binder.

Thieves can often get between $50 and $200 per converter. The part itself is worth less than $1,000, so stealing one is considered a misdemeanor.

But the lawmakers say it should be a felony because replacing it can cost up to $3,000, including labor.

If it passes, the bill would essentially ban the sale of catalytic converters unless the person is scrapping an entire car.