You may have noticed that catalytic converter theft has become insanely common recently. Getting your cat converter is stolen is miserable because being without one makes your car stinky and loud, but of course the worst part is the high cost of replacement. The monetary value is, of course, why people take them – you might have heard that the things are full of precious metals. But where exactly do they go? It’s not like pawn shops are standing by, waiting to pay cash for obviously stolen cat converters. Eric The Car Guy has helped demystify a few things about it with this video.
Eric The Car Guy has been a well-known car repair/DIY YouTubers for years. He’s got a long list of videos that walk you through various types of fixes on many different vehicles, but he’s got a penchant for older Hondas so you know he’s got good taste.
Thanks to the pandemic and global shortages of rare commodities like precious metals or even microchips, prices of certain goods and raw materials have skyrocketed. Why does that affect catalytic converters? Well, a catalytic converter is a device like a very geometric ceramic beehive that exists in the exhaust system of nearly every car post-1990ish. That geometric beehive shape allows exhausts gases to flow through a matrix of precious metals, mostly platinum, palladium, and rhodium, that coat the walls of the ceramic matrix. That mix of metals catalyzes and interacts with exhaust gases and does something called a “redox reaction.” Sounds super sciencey but practically speaking it just breaks harmful pollutant molecules into less harmful stuff.
So under every car is a literal beehive of precious metals, in total about three grams for a car and sixish grams for a truck. Most of that is platinum, which is very valuable. The real kicker is the tenths of grams of rhodium that exists in the converter, which is insanely valuable. At the time of filming the video on April 2, 2021, Eric quoted rhodium prices at $25,850 for an ounce, which is 28 grams. As of drafting this piece on April 22, prices have jumped to $28,600 an ounce. You have permission to say “holy shit.”
Eric then explains that these converters disappear en masse into recycling facilities or individual scrappers that offer cash under the table for converters, no questions asked. The insane price of rhodium and other precious metals in the cats compared to pre-pandemic prices have driven theft up, along with a no-questions-asked “cool man I wonder why he has 15 catalytic converters, oh well” attitude from the recycling industry making a ton of money on top of whatever they pay the thieves. It’s nuts.
Give Eric’s other vid a watch for a more thorough run through, and give his other video on protecting your catalytic converter a gander as well. Stay safe, cats!