The city of Los Angeles is exploring new penalties for anyone found to be in possession of a catalytic converter that they are unable to provide proof of ownership for.

A new city ordinance proposed by L.A. Councilmember John Lee at last week’s city council meeting could lead to suspected catalytic converter thieves having to pay fines as much as $1000 and face as much as six months in jail.

The new ordinance offers stiffer penalties and a new tool for law enforcement officers looking to combat the dramatic rise in catalytic converter thefts.

“My office works very closely with law enforcement here in the city of Los Angeles, and they’ve become increasingly frustrated with the large amount of catalytic converters that have been stolen from vehicles,” Lee told KTLA. “This ordinance we introduced is to help our law enforcement officers better address this type of criminal activity that results in a profound financial implication for individuals and families that are affected.”

Catalytic converters are regular targets for thieves. They can be cut from the undercarriage of a car and sold to recyclers for anywhere from $25 to $300 for a standard vehicle and up to $1,400 for hybrid vehicles, according to the vehicle data company Carfax.

In Los Angeles, those thefts have risen at shocking levels, with some estimates as high as a 700% increase in the last five years. And those estimates might be low. Many thefts are believed to unreported due to a lack of insurance coverage for the stolen part.

Drivers who don’t have full coverage insurance that covers the theft of a catalytic converters can find themselves looking at a repair cost of around $2,000 or $3,000 — possibly even more.

Lee, whose district includes the communities of Granada Hills, Northridge and Porter Ranch, says not only is there the financial burden of replacing the stolen vehicle part, but also the cost of being without a drivable vehicle for a significant amount of time while awaiting repairs.

Because of the massive amount of thefts in recent years, repairs can take weeks to months, depending on the vehicle, due to a shortage of available replacement parts.

“We’ve heard so many stories of what once may have taken a few weeks can honestly last sometimes, in some cases, as long as three months without being with a car,” Lee said. “So obviously the detrimental effects are more than just the cost of the immediate cost of the catalytic converter, but also the loss of a car for your family.”

The new ordinance would require anyone who is stopped and found to be in possession of a stolen catalytic converter to have to provide an explanation or proof of their right to possess it.

If passed, it would fill a gap that exists in current local laws. There wasn’t a need for such punishments in existing city laws, because the problem wasn’t as prevalent as it has become in recent years, Lee said, and vehicle owners being left stuck without a drivable car is making the need for new solutions even more pressing.

“The intent here is to stop individuals who are seeing this as an easy crime that can’t be stopped,” Lee said. “If someone has a converter on them that has a good reason, like they’re a mechanic, or they bought it as a replacement part from a junkyard, it’s also likely that they will be able to verify that.”

The proposal passed at last week’s meeting with a majority of 8-4, but it will return onto the agenda for another vote on April 11, because it did not pass with unanimous support.

The second vote will require only a simple majority for the new law to be put into place, at which point it will take at least 30 days for it to go into effect.

In the mean time, Lee and local law enforcement officials say Los Angeles residents can reduce their risk of having the critical vehicle part stolen.

Drivers are encouraged to park in well-lit areas or leave their cars in a garage if possible. Another preventative measure includes having your VIN number etched onto the converter to deter would-be thieves. Some local law enforcement agencies have partnered with local auto body shops to offer this service at a lower price.