The rise of precious metal prices is the catalyst for catalytic converter thefts

News 5 Investigates

Mobile, Ala. (WKRG) — It was just last October when Louis Pope found a man up under his truck in Foley.

“Dudes up under my truck I don’t know if he is stealing or whatever but whatever he is I’m gonna whoop his a–,” Pope said.

Police arrested James Neidhardt and said he was responsible for a rash of catalytic converter thefts. In the past several months, both here on the Gulf Coast and across the country, thefts of the devices have been on the rise. You may ask, ‘Why catalytic converters?’

“When they realize that catalytic converters are so valuable then that’s a relatively easy target to get, unfortunately—and it’s very profitable up the chain,” says Mobile Co. Sheriff’s Captain Paul Burch.

The devices installed in the exhaust system of your vehicle help reduce emissions. They are a value to criminals in more than one way. First, petty criminals can sell the devices for a few hundred dollars—and it’s easy to do. A person looking to sell catalytic converters simply has to sign a paper that says…

“…that they’re yours—that they came off a vehicle that you own,” said Burch.  “And most of these people know good and well that some guy who’s clearly a meth-head, probably high at the time, doesn’t own seven vehicles–especially a newer looking catalytic converter.”

Various people have posted videos on YouTube where they have attempted and sometimes succeeded at recovering the precious metals inside the devices. Cody Don Reeder of Cody’s Lab on the site says of what’s inside a catalytic converter, “The material is made of a zirconium dioxide ceramic with an aluminum coat and the precious metals are in that outer coat.”

But it’s not an easy process, involving dangerous chemicals with a side offering of chlorine gas–that could be deadly.

And Capt. Burch says it’s the rise in the price of the precious metals inside catalytic converters that is directly attributable to the rise in thefts. Beyond petty criminals and metal yards, the recovery of the metals is done on an industrial scale. Those metals include platinum and an element called rhodium.

Experts in precious metals like Mobile Bay Coins’ Angelo Semifero says, “When something is plated in rhodium, it turns white, silver in color–it’s used in white gold to make something look pretty, look white instead of yellow.”

While it’s used in jewelry, rhodium has other applications. The bulk of the rhodium market goes to the auto industry for use in catalytic converters. It’s more efficient at stripping toxic chemicals from the exhaust. But since 2018, the price of a single ounce of rhodium has skyrocketed.

“It’s in the twenty-four, twenty-five thousand dollar range right now and it’s gone to the moon and it just keeps going, and it’s going to be impacting a lot of folks,” said Semifero.

Capt. Burch says there is proposed legislation to change the laws that allow criminals to easily sell stolen catalytic converters–but until then, that loophole remains.

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