So far this month, 11 catalytic converters — a standard part of a vehicle’s exhaust system — have been reported stolen to either the Centralia or Chehalis police departments.
The thefts are part of a nationwide trend of thieves crawling under vehicles and sawing off the catalytic converter, which contains small amounts of precious metals such as rhodium, platinum and palladium.
“They go around and collect a few and go to recycling places and turn them in for scrap,” said Centralia Police Sgt. Carl Buster.
This month, rhodium is valued at roughly $29,500 per ounce, platinum at roughly $1,250 and palladium at roughly $2,990, according to market estimates from Trading Economics.
All three metals have increased in price since January and are forecast to become more valuable in the coming months.
Catalytic converters typically only contain micrograms of these precious metals, but it’s enough to fetch up to a few hundred dollars at a recycling center.
Local recycling centers have been working with law enforcement in cases where they suspect someone is trying to sell a stolen catalytic converter; but in most cases, unless you catch someone in the act or you have surveillance footage at a quality high enough where police can identify the subject, there’s little that can be done to prevent the thefts or recover the stolen parts.
“It’s just something that is very easy to steal … and hard to take any preventative measures against if you park your car outside because they can do it so quickly,” said Buster, adding that, with the right tools, the whole theft takes between two to five minutes.
“It’s literally a crime of opportunity where they feel they have two to five minutes alone with your car,” said Buster. “Anyone’s car is subject.”