Why catalytic converter thefts are on the rise

SEATTLE — Since 1975, almost all gasoline cars and trucks sold in the United States have catalytic converters installed between the engine and muffler. Catalytic converters scrub the worst toxic pollutants from the car’s exhaust.

Data from the Seattle police show only eight recorded thefts in 2018 and 13 in 2019. In 2020, thefts jumped to 738. This year, as of Jan. 26, the Seattle police have recorded 123 thefts, on pace to double last year’s thefts.

The Seattle Humane Society had someone cut and steal the catalytic converters out of four of their transport vehicles on March 4. A man in Fremont stopped what appeared to be a theft in progress.

But why are they so valuable to thieves? The converters are coated with precious metals: palladium, rhodium and platinum. Stricter car emission rules around the world have surged the demand for these metals.

The price of palladium was about $560 an ounce just five years ago. The price per ounce for Mar. 5 was $2,329.10.

Rhodium prices have skyrocketed from $700 an ounce five years ago to a record $28,250 an ounce on Mar. 8. That makes rhodium over 16 times more valuable than gold.

The catalytic converters only take a few moments to saw off the belly of a car, and they sell for a few hundred dollars at a scrapyard.

The King County Sherriff’s office says car owners can get a “cat clamp” or cover to protect your vehicle. It won’t stop determined thieves, but may slow them down or they may take another look and move on to another car.

(Rhodium and Palladium values sourced at moneymetals.com)