Recently, in New Jersey, people have been stealing catalytic converters from cars. Why are people stealing this specific part all of a sudden?

It happened to 4 people on my parents' street. I am wondering why this is the new thing and why they are specifically targeting Toyotas and Hondas.

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    They target a certain Toyota model because it is extremely easy to cut off the cat in a few seconds, unless the protection plate has been fitted. Commented Oct 26, 2022 at 9:42
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    Welcome to Motor Vehicle Maintenance & Repair! It really isn't a new thing. It's been going on for quite some time. With the economy being in the toilet as it has been, thieves are being more brazen and are taking what they can when they can. It's also much easier with the advent of battery operated reciprocating saws which can tear through exhaust pipe in a matter of seconds. If they've got two people with two saws, they can be done and onto the next vehicle in a matter of a minute or so. Commented Oct 26, 2022 at 11:45
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    @Pᴀᴜʟsᴛᴇʀ2 thank you for the extra context here. Yes - you are correct, its more of a new thing to me haha. The local police have said that this is happening more and more in our current area of Northern New Jersey.
    – Ilianna
    Commented Oct 26, 2022 at 19:20
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    Short version: because they are literally made of platinum. Long version: there are other valuable metals involved too, as detailed in the answers below, but that's a simple way to understand it. Commented Oct 27, 2022 at 13:44
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    @Rodrigo de Azevedo: Good job on the edit! Commented Oct 31, 2022 at 15:29

3 Answers 3


They contain precious metals that the thieves recycle for scrap money. Mostly rhodium, palladium and platinum.

The ones they target tend to be the models with higher amounts of metals (for cleaner emissions) in the catalytic converters.

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    "The ones they target tend to be..." Also, the ones that they can get underneath easily, like SUVs - if they have to jack up the car to reach the converter, it's more opportunity to be noticed. Commented Oct 26, 2022 at 18:17
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    To clarify a bit more, these are mostly expensive precious metals. Raw platinum is trading around USD 950 per troy ounce (actually cheaper than gold, but it’s not got the crazies jacking up the price), palladium at just short of USD 2000 per troy ounce (possibly more, possibly less, palladium prices are exceedingly volatile), and rhodium at a whopping USD 14100 per troy ounce (for good reason, it’s both rare and expensive to refine). Prices selling to junkyards and scrap dealers are generally less, but a single catalytic converter can still net a thief a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. Commented Oct 26, 2022 at 19:15
  • As @GalacticCowboy mentioned, a large part in selecting the "target" vehicle is the ease of getting to and removing the catalytic converter. On Hondas and Toyotas they are very easy to access and cut off; on some other vehicles they may be more difficult or cumbersome to steal, requiring more time - and spending more time is risky, as there's more chance of getting caught.
    – Aleks G
    Commented Oct 27, 2022 at 12:58
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    Hybrids are also prime targets, because since they partially run on electric power, the converters are less used, and the metals cleaner. Commented Oct 27, 2022 at 12:59

National data is scarce, but news reports point to thousands of catalytic converter thefts over the past year, a crime wave that has risen with the price of rhodium, a silvery-white chemical element that is a byproduct of the production of platinum and palladium, and is unparalleled in its ability to remove the most toxic pollutants from vehicle exhaust. [...] Before the 2008 recession hit, South African mines were churning out platinum, a pillar of the country’s export economy that is used in a wide variety of products from jewelry to heavy industry. They kept doing so during the downturn, creating a massive surplus of platinum that persists to this day. Because rhodium is a byproduct of platinum production, it is produced only when mining companies see a profit in platinum — which they might not for another few years until the surplus wanes.

Source: Lesley Wroughton & Max Bearak, A precious metal that costs 15 times the price of gold is driving a surge in thefts of catalytic converters, The Washington Post, March 4, 2021.

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    "Thousands" is an understatement if you're talking national (U.S.) numbers. In my city alone, there were over 4500 catalytic converter thefts in less than a year and a half.
    – shoover
    Commented Oct 27, 2022 at 3:06

The precious metals describe why they are valuable, but not why they are stolen.

Consider something else that's easy to steal: bikes. You only need a battery powered angle grinder to steal a bike (and in many cases, the bike isn't locked to a solid object so it can be carried away and the angle grinder operated later; it's also possible to disable a lock with a battery powered hot glue gun, allowing using the angle grinder at a time of a day when nobody is hearing it, since the owner can't unlock the bike and has no choice than to leave it there). Many bikes are even more valuable than catalytic converters.

What's different between bikes and catalytic converters is that if a thief has 100 bikes with no proof of ownership and tries to sell them to a used bike dealer, that dealer probably wouldn't accept the bikes.

However, if a thief has 100 catalytic converters with no proof of owning 100 cars or operating a car repair shop (to explain having 100 cats), and tries to sell them to a scrap metal dealer, in many cases the dealer will accept those cats.

Of course, there are other channels too for bike sales than selling them to a used bike dealer. The thief could sell them directly to customers, advertising the stolen bikes online. That's why we still have bike theft, some people buy cheap used bikes with no proof of ownership, directly from the thief.

What we need to prevent catalytic converter theft is better accounting for used cats. A scrap metal dealer should only accept cats with proof of ownership or proof of operating a car repair business. Used catalytic converters have value only for scrap metal dealers, not for anyone else.

You can also reduce the risk of your cat being stolen. If you engave your registration number into the cat, in a manner so visible that someone considering stealing the cat would see it, the chances of that cat being stolen are reduced.

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