Automotive News NZ – Gone in 60 seconds…thieves cash in on precious exhaust metalsAutomotive News NZ |

on March 11, 2022 |
in HighlightsIndustry newsLatest news
by means of Alastair Sloane † of Comments Off

This is a repeat of a story on these pages from a year ago. A year takes on new meaning on… What price rhodium now?

It’s a practice that’s been going on in New Zealand for decades – sawing off the catalytic converters in cars’ exhaust systems to increase the engine’s power, if only marginally.

But now the trial has brought in the police, including the US FBI and the global agency Interpol. Why? Because international criminals convert precious metals into catalysts.

The catalytic converters themselves contain a honeycomb structure that filters harmful vehicle exhaust fumes. Thieves sell them through scrap dealer networks.

The thieves are lured by the spectacular rise in the value of one of the metals, rhodium. It is unmatched in its ability to remove the most toxic pollutants from the gases.

Three years ago, a troy ounce (31.1 grams) of rhodium was worth about $1700 – now it’s worth $27,500, 16 times the price of gold.

US insurance and law enforcement agencies record thousands of catalytic converter thefts. A Minneapolis repair shop has had to fix 70 cars so far this year where the device has been removed.

In London there were more than 3000 thefts of catalytic converters in the first six months of 2019. That was an increase from 170 in all of 2017. The UK’s corona measures brought thefts to a halt last year, but they continued nonetheless. Australia also reports such thefts.

Scammers use battery powered saws or grinders to cut through the exhaust pipes. In one case in London, CCTV recorded two men driving away within minutes with most of a parked car’s exhaust system. They quickly jacked up the car.

Hybrids are the most attractive, as fewer pollutants mean the metal is in a better condition. SUVs are also targeted because their often greater ground clearance gives crooks easier access. A UK report said a gang stole six catalytic converters a day in 2019 and sold them each for NZ$400.

Silvery white rhodium is a by-product of platinum and palladium production. About 80 percent of the world’s rhodium comes from South Africa. Each unit of ore mined typically contains 60 percent platinum, 30 percent palladium and 8 to 9 percent rhodium, according to South African producers.

South Africa has been mining and exporting as much platinum as possible for years. It is one of the country’s top exports and is used in a variety of products from jewelry to heavy industry.

But the constant mining led to a platinum surplus that continues to this day. Platinum is only produced when mining companies see a profit in it. As a result, production of the essential by-product of platinum has virtually ceased, causing a worldwide rhodium shortage of more than 150,000 troy ounces.

Mining companies say even meteoric rhodium prices cannot justify scaling up platinum production. “No one is going to mine just for the rhodium,” said one US analyst.

  • Removing catalytic converters from cars allows exhaust gases to leave the engines much faster and at higher levels. The result, in a nutshell, is a little more power, a louder exhaust note – and more harmful CO2 emissions.
  • New Zealand, unlike many developed countries, does not have emissions testing as part of the Warrant of Fitness regime. Our politicians continue to make fun of themselves – all about monitoring transport emissions.

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Automotive News NZ – Gone in 60 seconds…thieves cash in on precious exhaust metalsAutomotive News NZ |

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