Motorists have learned to take down the window mounts of their GPS systems when they leave their cars unattended. Now comes a crime spree they can do little to prevent. Catalytic converters are being stolen in increasing numbers. Thieves crawl under parked cars and saw—or if they’re bolted on, unscrew--the catalytic converter canisters right off the exhaust. The crime wave has become a nuisance noticed in Long Island, California, many points in between, and even the U.K.
What the thieves are after are the platinum group metals—platinum, palladium, and rhodium—that reduce nitrogen oxides and oxidize carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons in auto exhaust fumes. These metals have become even more precious in recent years. According to British metals and catalyst supplier Johnson Matthey, platinum prices have increased by more than 80% over the past two years, hitting nearly $2,000 per troy ounce in April. Meanwhile, palladium costs have increase 37% and rhodium prices have more than doubled, reaching $450 and $9,063 per ounce, respectively. Granted, even though the levels of platinum group metals in the converters are measured in grams, they seemingly contain enough of the stuff to fetch more than $50.
The canisters don’t contain the metals in an easy-to-fence coin. They are coated onto a ceramic substrate. Thus, they must be chemically extracted. One wonders if there are organized crime operations dedicated to this or whether illicit converters are showing up in normal catalytic converter recycling channels.