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Thieves Nationwide Are Slithering Under Cars, Swiping Catalytic Converters

From about $500 an ounce five years ago, the price of palladium quintupled to hit a record of $2,875 an ounce last year, and is now hovering between $2,000 and $2,500 an ounce, above the price of gold. Rhodium prices have skyrocketed more than 3,000 percent from about $640 an ounce five years ago to a record $21,900 an ounce this year, roughly 12 times the price of gold.

The soaring prices may be accelerating the shift to electric cars, analysts said, noting that catalytic converters now make up a much larger proportion of a gasoline-powered vehicle’s cost than they did even just a year ago.

The metals prices, in turn, are fueling a black market in stolen catalytic converters, which can be sawed off from the belly of a car in minutes, and fetch several hundred dollars at a scrapyard, which then sells it to recyclers who extract the metals. These global trends in emissions regulations, metals markets and larceny appear to have converged that rainy night in Mr. Kevane’s driveway.

Nationwide, police are reporting a surge in cases.

In St. Louis, catalytic converter thefts jumped more than eightfold, from 50 in 2019 to to 420 last year, with the trend gaining speed near the end of the year into early 2021. In Lexington, S.C., sheriffs deputies responded to 144 catalytic converter thefts between July and December, nearly triple the number of cases over the year-earlier period.

Converter thefts in Wichita, Kan., also almost tripled in 2020 compared to the previous year, to 547 cases from 191, and the pace picked up in January, with 102 reported cases just that month. (Other police departments, including those in San Jose, N.M., and New York, said such detailed data was not available.)

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