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. These thefts aren’t just isolated to the Northwest though, in fact all states have reported increases in these catalytic converter thefts. Ask around and you are guaranteed to find someone who has been affected by one of these metal marauders.
But why are they so valuable to thieves? Stricter car emissions rules around the world — particularly in China, which has scrambled in recent years to get its dire air pollution problem under control — have sent demand for the precious metals in catalytic converters surging. That has pushed up the asking price for some of the precious metals used in the device — like palladium and rhodium — to record highs.
From about $500 an ounce five years ago, the price of palladium quintupled to hit a record of $2,875 an ounce last year, and is now hovering between $2,000 and
$2,500 an ounce, above the price of gold. Rhodium prices have skyrocketed more than 3,000 percent from about $640 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.
With 80% of Rhodium demand being driven by the auto industry and demand for new cars continuing to rise every year, Rhodium prices are expected to continue to rise.