Catalytic converters are pollution control devices coated with chemicals and a combination of platinum (Pt), rhodium (Rh) or palladium (Pd). Catalytic converter recycling plays a significant part in the effort to feed the constant demand for platinum from the automotive and other transportation industries that make these devices. However, with this lower-cost supply, the price of the the metal has declined to its lowest level since 2008.
Yet platinum is still valuable, and a simple Google search of “catalytic converter theft” will confirm it with page after page of stories taking place all over the country. For example, in September 2015, the Los Angeles Daily News reported that detectives seized thousands of stolen automobile catalytic converters following a six-month investigation. The Chicago Tribune describes a proposed ordinance to combat the problem by prohibiting secondhand dealers, junk peddlers and pawn shops from dealing in catalytic converters, and letting motor vehicle repair shops and recycling facilities know from whom they can accept converters and how to dispose of them.
The list of reported thefts and arrests goes on. Why? The Allstate blog states that according to the NYPD Community Affairs Bureau, thieves can sell catalytic converters to scrap yards for about $100-150, while the Sacramento Police Department notes catalytic converters are appealing to robbers because they generally cannot be traced back to a particular vehicle. Edmonds.com explains that a catalytic converter can be stolen in less than two minutes using a simple wrench or reciprocating saw. According to the article, depending on whether platinum, palladium, rhodium or gold are used as the catalyst in the catalytic converter, metal recyclers may pay $20-$200 for one. The recyclers then extract the metal and resell it for as much as $6,000 an ounce, as in the case of rhodium.
If you fall victim to catalytic converter theft, Allstate says the replacement cost may be covered if you have comprehensive car insurance. The site also offers some useful tips to prevent catalytic converter theft from happening in the first place (or again):
- Welding or shearing the bolt heads on the catalytic converter to make it harder for a thief to remove it.
- Install a catalytic converter theft deterrent. These are typically a cage or thick wires around the converter that are difficult for a thief to cut through.
- Engrave your license plate number or vehicle identification number on the catalytic converter so that it can be traced to your vehicle.
- Park the car inside your garage or in busy areas with good lighting.
According to the 2016 USGS Platinum Group Metals Mineral Commodity Summary, an estimated 55,000 kilograms of platinum, palladium and rhodium was recovered from automobile catalytic converters in the United States. This recycled metal may contain hazardous materials such as lead or spent nickel-cadmium batteries, so recycling efforts must be combined with careful elemental analysis. Wavelength dispersive x-ray fluorescence (WDXRF) technology is well established for the analysis of the recovered metal because it offers high sensitivity down to low atomic number elements, high repeatability, and element selectivity. WDXRF is also favored for its wide dynamic range and ability to achieve the performance levels needed for routine industrial applications.
To learn more about catalytic converter recycling, read:
- Catalytic Converter Recycling Is Still Big Business
- Platinum Group Metal Recovery from Spent Catalytic Converters Using XRF
To learn more about the Platinum Group Metals, read:
- What Are the Platinum Group Metals and Why Do They Matter? (a six-part series)