It does not take long to steal a catalytic converter. With the right tools, an experienced thief can hack one off in under 30 seconds using a battery-operated reciprocating saw and a metal-cutting blade. In the time it takes to make a late snack or go to the bathroom, the thief may be long gone (with your catalytic converter, as seen above).   -  Photo: Martinez Cons

It does not take long to steal a catalytic converter. With the right tools, an experienced thief can hack one off in under 30 seconds using a battery-operated reciprocating saw and a metal-cutting blade. In the time it takes to make a late snack or go to the bathroom, the thief may be long gone (with your catalytic converter, as seen above). 

Photo: Martinez Cons

The rising cost of commodities due to inflationary pricing pressures and supply chain constraints is impacting fleets in a variety of ways, such as higher prices for replacement tires or higher prices for aluminum and steel used to manufacture aftermarket equipment or other accessories used to upfit work vehicles.

There is also a correlation between the price of certain commodities and the frequency of catalytic converter thefts. And we’re witnessing that today.

During the first half of 2022, fleets around the country have reported a surge of  catalytic converter thefts from company vehicles.

The thieves aren’t interested in the catalytic converter themselves, however - what they want is the precious metals within them. These metals are expensive and often more valuable than gold. Plus, catalytic converters can be easily sold on the black market, which adds another incentive for thieves looking for quick cash. A catalytic converter is an emission control device found under a vehicle that is connected to the exhaust system and the muffler. 

The frequency of thefts of catalytic converters tends to increase as certain commodity prices increase. In today’s world of elevated commodity prices, making a quick buck from an easy heist is a no-brainer for many criminals. Catalytic converter thefts are skyrocketing. 

What has gotten everyone’s attention is the double-digit percentage increase over the high theft rates in 2021 and we are only in the first half of CY-2022. 
Here are some examples of how catalytic converters thefts are surging in cities around the country:

  • In Minneapolis, catalytic converter thefts are up 38% in the first three months of 2022 compared to the same period in 2021.
  • In Dallas, catalytic converter thefts are up 20%.
  • And in Philadelphia, they are up an eye-opening 172%. 

Here’s why catalytic converters are so tempting to thieves. The average catalytic converter contains one to two grams of three precious metals – platinum, palladium, and rhodium. Cumulatively, it takes about 14 to 15 stolen catalytic converters just to get about one ounce of the metals.

But for a thief it’s worth it. These stolen catalytic converters are as good as gold – actually, better. For example, as of May 31, 2022, the price of gold was  $1,844 per ounce.
So remember that price of gold to compare it to the price of the other precious metals used in a catalytic converters. 

One metal used in catalytic converters is rhodium, whose price as of May 31 was $15,500 per ounce. Let me repeat the price to let it sink in –  price of rhodium is $15,500 per ounce. And what’s crazy is that rhodium has been even more expensive just months earlier. As recently as May 7, 2022, rhodium was selling at $22,200 per ounce. 
Gold is $1,844 per ounce. Rhodium is worth almost 10 times as much at  $15,500 per ounce. 

Another precious metal used in catalytic converters is palladium, which, as of May 31, was $1,817 per ounce. Again, using an ounce-to-ounce comparison, palladium is actually more valuable than gold.

The third precious metal used in catalytic converters is platinum, which is selling for $977 per ounce as of May 31.

This is why catalytic converters are tempting to thieves. For the most part, catalytic converter thefts are often “crimes of opportunity.” And often it is your employee driver who creates the opportunity that makes their company vehicle a tempting target. These employees may park their company vehicles in their driveways or near their homes on the street, and poorly lit areas are prime for swiping a precious metal-laden catalytic converter.  

Another prime target for catalytic converter thefts are centralized parking areas for company vehicle pools. Thieves target these marshalling yards at night, knowing that nobody will be coming for the vehicles until the following morning. 

Typically, catalytic converters are stolen from high-clearance vehicles such as trucks because it allows the thief to easily crawl beneath the vehicle.  Most thefts occur at night. A thief can slip under a vehicle, make two quick cuts, and remove the catalytic converter using a battery-operated saw and metal-cutting blade.   

The photo above shows what the underside of a vehicle looks like when a catalytic was been stolen. One popular target of catalytic converter thieves are hybrid vehicles such as the Prius. As an ultra-low-emissions vehicle, hybrids emit fewer toxins, thereby provide a cleaner and more valuable catalytic converter, which has a higher demand on the black market. 

Catalytic converter thefts are often committed by drug addicts because it is a quick crime and a quick way to get quick cash. Across the U.S., there are hundreds of recyclers who buy used catalytic converters. Auto recycling companies will pay anywhere from $154 to $449 for a used catalytic converter. 

The more sophisticated thieves will sell stolen catalytic converters to recyclers who can extract these precious metals using special equipment. These more sophisticated thieves will ship stolen catalytic converters in bulk to recycling companies in Poland, China, and Latvia, where they undergo a carbochlorination process that extracts the precious metals.

Needless to say, catalytic converter theft is a huge headache for fleets. It results in immediate downtime of a vehicle since it is illegal to drive a vehicle without a catalytic converter. It is also extremely dangerous, since the hot exhaust blowing from sawed-open exhaust pipes could heat the vehicle’s fuel tank and create a potential fire risk if driven long enough with the severed exhaust pipe. 

It is also expensive to replace catalytic converters. It costs between $965 to $3,700 for parts and labor to install a new replacement catalytic converter, with costs varying by make and model of  vehicle and high-labor metro areas. But all of this is contingent upon the repair shop having a catalytic converter in stock – often they are on back order.  The increase in catalytic converter thefts has created a shortage of replacement catalytic converters. 

Plus, this does not include soft costs such as the loss of revenue from a downed vehicle in your fleet, the expense of a hiring a replacement vehicle, and driver downtime. 
Fleets need to reassess their policies on how company vehicles are secured after work hours. You need to alert your drivers of this threat and to have them garage vehicles when possible or to park vehicles in well-lit areas. 

And it is not just the theft of catalytic converters that you should be concerned about. Thieves also steal batteries, remove diesel particulate filters, and steal tires, especially from vehicles with large-diameter tires. Siphoning fuel has also become more popular as fuel prices soar.

You need to stress to your drivers the need to be more vigilant in securing company vehicles, which will help to deter thieves from targeting you. 

About the author
Mike Antich

Mike Antich

Editor and Associate Publisher

Mike Antich has covered fleet management and remarketing for more than 20 years and was inducted in the Fleet Hall of Fame in 2010 and inducted in the Global Fleet of Hal in 2022. He also won the Industry Icon Award presented jointly by the IARA and NAAA industry associations.

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