See how much precious metal thieves can get from your catalytic converter

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Catalyst thefts have been on the rise in recent years and show no signs of slowing down, as the prices of the precious metals they contain continue to skyrocket. According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, catalytic converter thefts have increased by an incredible 325 percent from 2019 to 2020. Many of these may be related to the state of global supply chains and the prices of previous metals that allow a catalytic converter to operate. converter.

Catalytic converters are muffler-shaped devices that are part of the exhaust system that remove harmful pollutants from engine emissions. The inside of a catalytic converter contains a honeycomb structure that is coated with precious metals and these precious metals act as a catalyst to break down these harmful pollutants and convert them into less harmful emissions. (Here is a video showing how it all works.) Engines emit harmful gases such as hydrogen, carbon monoxide and nitrous oxide, and the catalyst process inside a catalytic converter converts them into less harmful substances such as water, carbon dioxide and nitrogen. .

Modern catalytic converters typically have two stages with the first stage being a reduction catalyst, which exists to eliminate nitrous oxide and the second stage being an oxidation catalyst, which eliminates carbon monoxide and non-combustible hydrocarbons. These stages are usually supported by cedar and ceramic honeycomb catalyst structures and overlap with these expensive precious metals that thieves are looking for.

The three most commonly found precious metals in a catalytic converter are platinum, rhodium and palladium. All three have seen price spikes as the pandemic erupted and as global supply chains slowed. According to, the spot price of Rhodium dropped from $ 2,300 per ounce in January 2019 to over $ 14,000 per ounce by December 2020, so it is no surprise that NICB recorded thefts in the triple digits. Rhodium price increases did not stop in 2020 as they peaked at $ 27,000 per ounce in April 2021 and still remain well above 2019 levels with a current price of over $ 11,000 per ounce.

The increases in platinum and palladium were not so drastic, but spot prices are still higher than in 2019 and the price of palladium almost doubled from the beginning of 2019 to the end of 2020. Although they have settled in to some extent, palladium is still up more than 30 percent today compared to where it was in early 2019. The COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact on the supply of these precious metals and the economic situation has caused prices to rise. of metals in general, resulting in price explosions and increased prices for used catalytic converters that could be torn for the extraction of these precious metals.

According to Waste Advantage magazine, the average catalytic converter contains three to seven grams of platinum, two to seven grams of palladium and one to two grams of rhodium. Current prices in June 2022 raise platinum to about $ 30 per gram, palladium to about $ 60 per gram and rhodium to about $ 440 per gram. Considering these values, we can see that the average catalytic converter can contain from $ 90 to $ 210 worth of platinum, from $ 120 to $ 420 palladium and from $ 440 to $ 880 rhodium. This leaves the average catalyst with an average value of precious metals from anywhere in the low hundreds to over $ 1,500 depending on the model.

While a catalytic converter could have precious metals valued at four numbers, these values ​​are not what a thief usually sees. They often sell to a recycler who then turns them over and sells them at a plant that can extract the metals. A thief is likely to see less than half of this, but the work is still valuable as it can take over $ 500 for some models with just a few minutes of work. The contents and quantities of precious metals in some catalytic converters are well known, which often translates into higher targeting rates for some models.

We often hear about Toyota Prius in the mid-2000s being targeted for these thefts and this is no accident. They contain one of the most valuable catalytic converters, known as the GD3 model. The Ecotrade Group is currently presenting this model as a bestseller and is showing a purchase price of over $ 600 for it right now. Units with similar quantities of these precious metals can be found in other vehicles of the time, such as the Chevy Trailblazer, which uses a catalytic converter that can cost over $ 400 according to the same recycling team. Higher vehicles, such as the Trailblazer, are often more prone to this type of theft simply in terms of convenience. a thief does not need to lift them with a jack and can simply slide underneath with a battery-powered saw to cut off the exposed catalyst. Not all catalytic converters are made the same, however, as we see prices well below $ 100 for other Chevrolet and Toyota catalysts of the same era, which probably translates into the known amounts of precious metals for these specific model numbers.

States are trying to curb these thefts by enacting legislation to toughen penalties for those with stolen catalysts along with laws on how they can be sold, but it is a difficult battle that is closely linked to these precious metal prices and if you stay high, many are likely to take the risk of trying to acquire these valuable catalytic converters.

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