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Catalytic converter thefts spike nationwide as precious metal prices spike

They can costs thousands of dollars to replace

Catalytic converter thefts are on the rise, and the crime increase is fueled by a number of factors. The New York Times reports that police are sounding the alarm on an unusual nationwide surge in cases. 

St. Louis catalytic converter thefts were eight times higher in 2020 than years past. Lexington, SC and Wichita, KS both reported triple their typical numbers for 2020. Some cities don’t have detailed data available, but in general, the numbers are up across the board.

Prices for the valuable and precious metals needed for emissions controls found inside catalytic converters are rising. The NYT points out two materials found within converters in particular: palladium and rhodium. Palladium was worth about $500/ounce five years ago, but hit $2,875/ounce in 2020. Rhodium was $640/ounce five years ago, but skyrocketed all the way up to $21,900/ounce recently. For some context, the NYT points out that $21,900/ounce is about 12 times the price of gold. Both of these materials are found in catalytic converters, so it’s no wonder that thieves want them. A greater demand for these metals from countries like China and others with emerging automotive markets that are pushing more emissions controls has pushed the prices up. 

In a pandemic-stricken year where more folks than ever are short on money or out of jobs, the increase in thefts could be a sign of the times, too. Many were or will be stuck with massive repair bills to buy a new catalytic converter if their car’s is stolen. Meanwhile, the thief is getting a big pay day. 

It’s not just car owners who are feeling the squeeze. Costs for manufacturers are going up as the material prices increase. The NYT reports that the auto industry is expected to spend about $40 billion this year on metals for catalytic converters. That’s no small chunk of an automaker’s budget, and can lead to an increase in prices that buyers pay at the dealership.

Certain cars are reportedly being targeted more than others. The Toyota Prius is especially attractive to thieves, as they know their catalytic converters don’t need to work as hard to tamp down emissions. That means there’s a potential for more of the precious metals to still be intact within the converter should the car have a lot of miles on it. Of course, the same can be said for any hybrid or plug-in hybrid vehicle these days.

Trying to defend against catalytic converter thieves isn’t easy work. They can slide underneath a car and saw it out quickly, then slip away into the night. The easiest and best defense could be parking your car in a lit area that has surveillance cameras on the watch.

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