What’s a Catalytic Converter and Why Do People Steal Them?

Catalytic converters are an anti-pollution device that are important to your safety as well. Catalytic converters are being targeted by thieves at an alarming rate right now. So why do people steal catalytic converters?

Did you know there’s a veritable treasure trove of valuable metals underneath your car? Well, thieves certainly do. This explains the drastic spike in catalytic converter theft. The National Insurance Crime Bureau, a company that monitors such thefts, reports that in 2021, thieves stole 12 times as many catalytic converters as they did in 2019!

A catalytic converter is a part of your car’s exhaust system that, through a chemical reaction, converts harmful engine exhaust pollutants into less harmful to the environment. 

A diesel particulate filter in the exhaust system in a car on a lift in a car workshop, seen from be

Usually, the majority of the “bad” hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, and nitrogen oxides in the exhaust are converted into “less harmful” carbon dioxide, nitrogen, and water vapor. Midway through the 1970s, catalytic converters began to show up in a lot of cars, and they quickly became almost universally used.

Although they can be any size or shape, catalytic converters are often placed in the exhaust system between the engine and the muffler, around the size of a loaf of bread (or sometimes a flattened loaf). The converter is positioned as close to the engine as is practical because it requires high heat to work.  Sometimes more than one converter is used.

Why They’re Stolen?

Money

Money is the main reason catalytic converters are often stolen. They contain platinum, palladium, and rhodium, three metals that help with the chemical reaction that makes exhaust pollutants less harmful.   Early in the twenty-first century, the costs of these metals have risen dramatically.

Priced by the ounce, platinum went from an average of about $530 per ounce in 2001 to about $1,100 in 2021 after it reached a high of $1,700 in 2011. Palladium went from an average price of $600 per ounce in 2001 to a high of nearly $2,400 in 2021.

Rhodium, however, has been the most volatile metal. It increased from an average price of around $1,600 per ounce in 2001 to an average of roughly $18,000 in 2021, with a high of almost $26,000 that year. In comparison, gold experienced a sixfold increase, from around $300 per ounce in 2001 to about $1,800 in 2021.

A converter’s cost increases along with the price of its three key metals, which can be recovered and sold, increasing the value of converters as scrap.

Male mechanic choosing door on car junkyard

As a result, junkyards are more actively collecting catalytic converters, and some companies have sprung up that will purchase converters sent to them. The price of a particular converter can vary greatly, but some amounts in advertisements from “mail-them-to-us” businesses range from roughly $140 to a stunning $1,500.

Due to their rising value, thieves have started stealing catalytic converters, usually cutting them out from under a car that is parked directly on the street.

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