HONOLULU (KHON) — Catalytic converter theft has gone down dramatically in Hawaii, state officials say, after a law took effect this year that makes it harder to sell the precious metals the car parts contain.

The owner of Yama’s Auto Care is seeing what everybody in his line of work has also noticed: They’re not getting a lot of customers in need of a new catalytic converter.

“I did maybe a couple this year. Before, I would do at least two or three a month,” said Mark Yamauchi, owner of Yama’s Auto Care.

Statistics from the Honolulu Police Department are eye-opening. As of 2023, there have been 119 reports of the theft. At this time the year before, there were 1,602. And 2,008 were reported in 2021.

Experts point out thieves can steal your catalytic converter in just a few minutes, but the damage to your car could cost thousands of dollars.

The crime was rampant not just in Hawaii, but all over the country. An estimated 153,000 catalytic converters were replaced nationwide last year.

Hawaii lawmakers made the crime a felony with a law that took effect in June 2022.

“Because the problem we had before was when people would get their catalytic converter stolen, in order to charge somebody with it, we would have to prove that the value of that used catalytic converter was over $750 because that’s the threshold for a felony,” said Honolulu prosecutor Steve Alm.

Alm said the 2022 law helped, but it was still hard to catch someone in the act of stealing a catalytic converter. He said what really made the difference was another law that took effect this year. Now, anyone selling the auto part has to show identification, sign a form saying the converter wasn’t stolen, and meet other requirements.

“They have to list their name, what vehicle brought it there, where they bought it from, on and on and on – people are not gonna do that,” said Alm.

Recyclers and auto shops that buy them are also required to hold on to the catalytic converter for 60 days and make sure they keep track of the paper trail.

“There has to be records kept of every sale, how much they cost, what the receipt was, on and on, those can be checked and that makes people follow the rules,” explained Alm. “And that I think has been critically important in reducing this.”

Alm said it’s similar to what happened with the theft of copper wires years ago and a good example of the system working.