Report: Catalytic converter thefts skyrocket as precious metal values soar

Catalytic converter thieves, the scourge of car owners across Chicago, have been a problem for years. And reports indicate the crime is becoming more popular and more lucrative thanks to skyrocketing precious metal prices.

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Here’s what’s up.

A mechanic works on a catalytic converter in this stock image. | Allstate Insurance

You probably already know that converter thieves use saws to remove catalytic converters from under vehicles and then sell the devices at scrapyards or on the black market for $100 to $200 each. The converters, which reduce harmful emissions, are especially valuable because they contain small amounts of expensive metals.

The price of one of those metals, palladium, is currently selling for nearly $2,400 per ounce. Five years ago, it was trading for $500.

Five years of palladium prices as of Friday, February 20, 2021. | Trading Economics

Another metal inside the devices, rhodium, is even more expensive: $23,400 per ounce currently, up from less than $2,000 per ounce five years ago. Last year alone, rhodium prices increased more than 3000%, according to Hagerty, an automotive news site.

Five years of rhodium prices as of Friday, February 20, 2021. | Trading Economics

Legitimate scrapyard operators are required to get identifying information from people who sell catalytic converters, so thieves typically turn to the black market to move their inventory. And the prices being paid are rising along with the precious metal prices.

SUVs have been popular targets in Chicago because the vehicles’ high clearance makes it easier for thieves to crawl underneath with a saw.

Hagerty reports the Toyota Prius is “particularly attractive” to thieves because the cars run cleaner than most vehicles, so the precious metals in their converters are less depleted than standard cars.

The odds of being hit by catalytic converter thieves are still relatively low, but the cost of replacing a stolen one is increasing. Hagerty ballparks the current repair price at between $2,000 and $3,000.

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