Curious case of catalytic converter theft and how not to become a victim

There has been a recent spike in catalytic converter theft around the world. Catalytic converter is an emission control device is found in both diesel and gasoline vehicles and contains Platinum (Pt), Palladium (Pd) and Rhodium (Rh).

Given the asking price for per ounce of Palladium has increased by almost 200%, Platinum by 360% and Rhodium by 180% over a 6-month period as of 8 April 2021, it’s no surprise that criminals find sawing off catalytic converters from vehicles and selling them to eager recycling companies a quick and easy way to riches.

There have been a growing number of cases reported in USA and London. In a US-wide National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) study of reported thefts, there were 108 reported catalytic converter thefts per month on average in 2018, 282 average monthly thefts in 2019, and 1,203 average thefts per month in 2020! In London, the Metropolitan Police investigated nearly 15,000 catalytic converter thefts in London in 2020, which is a whopping increment from 9500 cases the previous year.

Closer to home, in Malacca, out of the 65 catalytic converters confiscated by the Malaysian police during a raid last November, 30 were confirmed stolen. In last October, three men were arrested in Kuala Lumpur for stealing the catalytic converters from vehicles. It was reported that criminals who pilfered these auto parts included syndicates who used the proceeds from selling these stolen catalytic converters to purchase drugs. In fact, the theft was so rampant that raids and arrests have been reported every month in various parts of Malaysia such as Petaling Jaya, Kepong, Zengjiang, Cheras. It is believed that there are more theft cases than has gone unreported to the police.

Catalytic converter thefts are prevalent in Malaysia and tips to not become a victim.
Police in Malacca in Jan 2021 seized stolen catalytic converters (Source: Nanyang Siang Pau)

Why is this theft so prevalent then? Here are a few good reasons:

  • There is PGM loading in the coating of the catalytic converter. To know more about the types of catalytic converters and their PGM loadings, check out our expert article here.
  • PGM prices have skyrocketed. Typically, recyclers will pay USD50 to USD250 for a catalytic converter.
  • Easy target. In recent couple of years, cars are less utilised as people has gone out less or are working from home due to Covid19. Thus, cars that are left in the parking lot or alley are low hanging fruits ready for the picking by criminals. Plus, removing a catalytic converter from a car takes only minutes.
  • The pandemic and resulting economic downturn may have caused people to be more financially compromised, so some people have resorted to such thefts.
  • Easy access to “tool of the trade””. The tool used to remove a catalytic converter, a battery-operated saw, can readily be bought from a local regular hardware store.

Thankfully, Singapore has no report of such thefts yet. The Movement Control Order (MCO) in Malaysia and travel ban between Singapore and Malaysia have prevented criminal gangs and converter thieves from entering Singapore. However, when the pandemic situation improves and travel restrictions lifted, will we see a rise in converter theft here in Singapore too?

It remains to be seen but it’s never too early to learn how to safeguard our vehicle from catalytic converter thieves. Here are a few simple precautions to prevent a costly loss:

  • Park in a well-lit, densely populated area or somewhere near a CCTV.
  • Park close to fencing, walls or curbs; this will make the pilfering harder.
  • If your catalytic converter’s bolted on ask your local workshop to weld the bolts to make it more difficult to saw off.
  • There aredevices that lock in around the converter to make it more difficult to remove. Toyota produces its own device, called a Catloc. The device should fit quite a few models.
  • Speak to your car dealership about a tilt sensor that triggers an alarm if someone tries to jack up your vehicle.
  • If you see someone acting suspiciously under a vehicle, report it to the police (it might be your car next if his actions go unreported!).

As a leading specialist in precious metals recycling, we endeavour to bring you the latest issues on Platinum group metals (PGM) and catalytic converters recycling. If you are keen to know more on any topics related to catalytic converters or PGM, simply drop us a message at info@brmetalsltd.com

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