Catalytic converter thefts are on the rise across the country. Russia could make it worse.

The '67 by Charge Cars.
The '67 by Charge Cars.Charge Cars
  • NYC saw a rise of 5,000 cases of catalytic converter thefts in just one year.

  • Los Angeles has seen an increase in the issue too, with "thefts on the daily."

  • Palladium, one of the precious metals found in the "cats" may soon become even rarer.

There has been a stark rise in catalytic converter thefts across the country since 2019 and there's a chance Russia could make it worse.

According to National Insurance Crime Bureau data, thefts surged 1,215% between 2019 and 2022. The converters, also referred to as "cats," contain valuable metals such as rhodium, palladium, and platinum. The part, which The New York Times says looks like a "metal hot water bottle," uses chemicals to turn harmful emissions like carbon monoxide and other gases into steam.

Palladium — which is extracted from other mined minerals like nickel and is more expensive than gold — is a key component in the converters. According to BBC, the global demand for palladium outweighs the supply.

Each of the metals has faced supply chain issues since the pandemic occurred, but Russia may limit its imports of palladium, according to the Times. As of March 2022, Russia is responsible for exporting approximately 40% of the world's palladium, the Times reported, citing Moody Analytics.

Jonathan Barratt, CEO of CelsiusPro in Australia, told CNBC in June last year that it's likely Russia could limit global palladium imports which would bump up prices. 

As the National Automobile Dealers Association says, the converters are easy to steal and hard to track.

"Catalytic converters are easy to steal, but generally very difficult to trace to a specific vehicle, allowing them to be sold on the black market. The lack of traceable identifying marks makes the theft of catalytic converters difficult to curb," a NADA press release says.

According to NICB, people who turn in the cats to recycling facilities can grab up to $50 to $250 each.

Catalytic converter thefts have spiked all over the world, including the United Kingdom and Japan, Insider previously reported.

New York City has seen a huge spike in thefts, jumping from 2,070 in 2021 to 7,000 in 2022, the New York Times reported, citing the New York Police Department.

"The NYPD has developed an etching program that allows individuals to etch a code/number to a catalytic converter and then link that code to a website where it can be tracked," the NYPD told Insider in a statement. "The etching allows police to trace the part back to the car and owner, making it less attractive for thieves to steal."

Los Angeles has a similar problem and has also hosted etching events for the same purpose.

"Just this year alone, we've seen a huge increase," a detective with the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department told KTLA on Saturday, adding that the component can be stolen in under three minutes. "I'd say we have thefts on the daily. It's an unfortunate thing that we're trying to reduce."

LASD, the National Insurance Crime Bureau, and the National Automobile Dealers Association did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment.

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