The National Automobile Dealers Association, with support from a dozen other trade organizations, is mounting a campaign to make it a federal crime to steal a catalytic converter from a car, truck or sport utility vehicle.
The “Preventing Auto Recycling Theft Act,” or PART Act, is the first congressional bill to address the growing national problem of catalytic converter thefts, which are costing businesses and vehicle owners millions of dollars annually, according to NADA, which notes the bill is bipartisan and has support from both Democrats and Republicans.
“Catalytic converter theft is a major concern for dealers nationwide,” said NADA President and CEO Mike Stanton. “The Part Act would help deter catalytic converter thefts that are impacting dealerships, fleet businesses and consumers alike.”
Thefts on the rise
Catalytic converters are being stolen at increasingly higher rates due to their valuable metals, such as rhodium, platinum and palladium, according to NADA.
National Insurance Crime Bureau last month noted the increase in catalytic converter thefts has been dramatic in recent years. In 2018, there were 1,298 catalytic converter thefts for which a claim was filed. In 2019, it was 3,389 thefts with a claim. In 2020, catalytic converter theft claims jumped massively to 14,433, a 325% increase in a single year.
However, while the figures do not capture of the thefts of catalytic converter thefts, they do provide a look at the trends.
Catalytic converters critical for emission control
A catalytic converter is part of a vehicle’s exhaust system and looks like a smaller version of the muffler. It is designed to convert hazardous emissions from the engine and convert them into less harmful gasses by running them through a filtration system using precious metals like platinum, palladium or rhodium as catalysts. In recent years, the values of the precious metals have skyrocketed.
In December 2020, rhodium was valued at $14,500 per ounce, palladium at $2,336 per ounce, and platinum going for $1,061 per ounce. Typically, recyclers will pay $50 to $350 per catalytic converter, according to the NICB.
As of March 2022, the values of the precious metals contained inside catalytic converters had jumped to $20,000 per ounce for rhodium, palladium was at $2,938 per ounce; and platinum at $1,128 per ounce. according to kitco.com.
For vehicle owners, the cost of replacing a catalytic can run as high as $2,500. At present, thefts are hard to combat as catalytic convertors are not easily traceable and can be stolen from unattended vehicles in mass quantities, including at dealership lots, supporters of the federal legislation noted.
Russia is a supplier of key materials
One of the largest suppliers to the minerals used for the emission controls is Russia.
A recent article in The Hill, an online publication covering Capitol Hill, noted Russia is the world’s richest country when it comes to natural resources, and among the world’s largest exporters of natural gas, uranium, nickel, oil, coal, aluminum, copper, wheat, fertilizers and precious metals such as palladium, which is more precious than gold and used largely in catalytic converters.
The PART Act will require that new vehicles have unique identifying numbers stamped on catalytic converters during assembly, as well as establishes a federal criminal penalty for the theft, sale, trafficking or known purchase of stolen catalytic convertor, supporters of the bill noted.
“I cannot overstate the gravity of catalytic convertor theft across the country,” said Scott Lambert, president of the Minnesota Automobile Dealers Association (MADA). “Vehicle owners, including dealers and fleet owners, are collectively losing millions of dollars from these thefts, and in light of the global supply chain shortage, it is difficult and extremely costly to replace catalytic convertors. I urge Congress to move this issue forward and hold a hearing to explore remedies for the millions of stakeholders impacted.”