Catalytic Converter Theft: A Gas Car Hassle

Image via McCarthy Toyota of Sedalia

Berkeley, CA, where I live, has had a record 570 catalytic converter thefts so far this year, four of which involved gunfire. Thieves pull up late at night, saw off the catalytic converter in about 30 seconds, and drive off. Unless someone tries to stop them, which is where gunfire comes in.

This is a big national trend – rings of thieves have been recently caught with hundreds of millions of dollars worth of the stolen converters, fencing them through a garage in New Jersey.

Why catalytic converters? Because they’re easy to steal and contain precious metals like platinum, palladium, and rhodium. Apparently platinum goes for $8 or $900 per ounce, palladium for $2,200 per ounce, and rhodium over $10,000 per ounce. The primary use globally for all these metals? Making catalytic converters!

Most people probably have no idea what catalytic converters do; they’re lipstick on the pig of the internal combustion engine, high tech greenwashing that made us think gas engines weren’t totally gross all these years (they convert nasty stuff like carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide and unburnt hydrocarbons into carbon dioxide, water and oxygen).

And they’re expensive: we have about $280 billion locked up in catalytic converter ‘assets’ on our streets ($1,000 per converter times 280 million vehicles on the road in the U.S.).

But do people factor this cost and hassle into the comparison between gas and electric cars? No, because it’s just baked in and we’re numb to it, like oil leaks and oil changes and fluid replacements, radiator problems, etc.

Unless… they steal your catalytic converter one night. You’ll wait weeks or months to drive your car again because of a shortage of replacement converters (which can set you back a couple thousand if you can find one).

Hopefully this won’t happen to you while you’re waiting for supply chain constraints to make electric cars more available (they’re already cheaper than gas cars when you factor in lifetime operating costs).

1970s GM ad for catalytic converters.