Catalytic Converters Gone in Less Than Sixty Seconds - Really?

On November 3, the U.S. Department of Justice announced the bringing down of a catalytic converter theft ring operating over the last several years, involving 21 individuals in nine states.
Catalytic Converter 8 photos
Photo: photo by Evan Sears
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Assets including millions of dollars worth of homes, luxury vehicles, cash, and bank accounts were seized after the arrests of the suspects. The nationwide conspiracy theft ring allegedly pirated the catalytic converters to sell them on the black market for their precious metals content.

"Amidst a rise in catalytic converter thefts across the country, the Justice Department has today carried out an operation arresting 21 defendants and executing 32 search warrants in a nationwide takedown of a multimillion-dollar catalytic converter theft network. We will continue to work alongside our state and local partners to disrupt criminal conspiracies like this one that target the American people," said Attorney General Merrick Garland, who was quoted in the Washington Examiner.

It was reported that nationwide thefts of catalytic converters have increased over the last several as the value of the precious metals they contain has gone up. The article in the Washington Examiner also stated that catalytic converters are easy to steal and can be removed from a vehicle in less than one minute and lack identification features to trace.

The first thing that struck me after the amount of money these crooks were supposedly bringing in was the assertion that they can be stolen in less than a minute. That seems impossible, right? Just take a look at the featured picture above and tell me with conviction, that someone could remove that part in less than a minute. For starters, there is no flange on the front of the converter, which means the point of bolted attachment is at the exhaust manifold, which would most likely require lifting the hood. Secondly, the bolts on the flange at the rear of the converter are most likely rusted in place.

Now maybe these bold thieves haul around acetylene torches, but still, crawling underneath a car and torching off the converter in less than a minute seems a bit far-fetched. Take, for example, the car most targeted by these goons, the Toyota Prius. The Prius is not known for its ground clearance and pulling off a catalytic converter in less than a minute would seemingly take a pit crew similar in expertise to those in NASCAR or Formula 1.

I am not saying that these thefts are not happening but in less than a minute? If so, that is impressive, to say the least. I wish I could get a contractor to work that fast.

Based on the hundreds of millions of dollars the ring was said to bring in, I wanted to explore what cars were most affected and what precious metals the converters contain that make them so appealing to ripoff.

The aforementioned Toyota Prius manufactured from 2001-2021 is listed as the most targeted automobile. Next on the victim list is the popular Ford F-Series pickup trucks made from 1985 to 2021. The Honda Accord made from 1989 to 2020 is the third most desirable model, followed by the 1990-2022 Ford Econoline and the 1999-2021 Chevrolet Silverado to round out the top five. It is no surprise that all of the models listed are among the best-selling vehicles in the U.S.

So that begs the question. Why are these catalytic converters so valuable? Catalytic converters contain three precious metals: platinum, palladium, and rhodium, which combine to create a chemical reaction to lessen the amount of harmful pollutants in a vehicle's exhaust emissions.

Way back in 2001, platinum averaged about $530 per ounce ($18.69 per gram), however, fast forward to 2022, and the trading price is now $949.00 per ounce ($30.51 per gram). One catalytic converter could contain up to 7 grams of platinum.

Palladium has gone from an average price of $600 per ounce ($21.16 per gram) in 2021 to $2,061 ($72.69 per gram). A typical catalytic converter also contains up to 7 grams of palladium.

The value of the Rhodium content in today's catalytic converters is a real jaw-dropper. This precious metal has gone from trading at $1,600 per ounce ($56.43 per gram) in 2001 to a whopping $13,700 per ounce ($483.24 per gram) today. Rhodium has also been the most volatile surpassing $26,000 per ounce ($917 per gram) in 2021. A catalytic converter can have up to 2 grams of Rhodium.

The total value of these precious metals contained in today's catalytic converters can be as much as $1,688, making them a hot commodity.

In reality, it's no surprise that catalytic converter thefts have been on the rise over the last few years, but it sounds as though the DOJ has managed to snuff out the perpetrators, at least for now.
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