Crime

Russian war, precious metal price spike drive Vermont catalytic converter thefts

Photo credit autozone.com

By Guy Page

Police are investigating another catalytic converter theft at a St. Johnsbury car dealership – a growing trend in Vermont and nationwide, due in part to the Russian-Ukrainian war.

Catalytic converters contain precious metals, including rhodium, which as of today sells for $20,250/ounce.- three times its all-time high and about 20 times its usual price of about $1,000/ounce. By contrast, gold trades today for $1,744/ounce. 

The main use for rhodium is the construction of new catalytic converters. As with all metals, the price is driven by supply and demand. At present, new cars are in high demand, and supply is low because of restricted trade with Russia, the world’s second-leading producer of rhodium, according to metalary.com

Authorities were notified that multiple catalytic converters were cut from vehicles at the Mitsubishi dealership on Memorial Drive on Thursday, October 6. 

On July 8, St. J Subaru was hit by catalytic converter thieves. In January, catalytic converter thieves hit two St Johnsbury-area truck and auto repair centers. 

At this time state police are looking for assistance from the public in locating the individuals responsible. Anyone who has information is asked to call 802-748-3111.

Here’s a brief, very incomplete list of other recent Vermont catalytic converter thefts, as published in Vermont Daily Chronicle

A Hartford Elementary School bus catalytic converter stolen, September 17.

Multiple units taken from a Topsham auto repair shop in May. 

A Newport man arrested this May for a string of catalytic converter thefts. 

Two Windham County men arrested for stealing a Cadillac Escalade catalytic converter from a Readsboro garage in February.

As published in other news media (also a very partial list):

Barre man accused of stealing catalytic converters – Times Argus

Burlington Police Arrest Man After Responding to Report of Attempted Catalytic Converter Theft – John Guifoil Public Relations

Theft of catalytic converters growing like ‘wildfire’ – Rutland Herald

The problem has become severe enough to become a campaign issue. Mike Tagliavia, GOP candidate for Attorney General, cites catalytic converter victims’ uncompensated losses as one more reason for Vermont to stop the ‘revolving door’ of releasing people arrested and/or sentenced for non-violent crime. 

Gov. Phil Scott raised the question of reimbursing CC theft victims after being asked this summer about Chittenden County Sarah George’s suggestion that the state compensate victims for burglary losses. 

“It sounds a bit like a slippery slope,” Scott said. “I’ve never contemplated that. Where do you stop? Is it the obligation of the state to provide for, let’s say, someone stealing catalytic converters at some dealership, which I just saw on the news this morning? Would that be the responsibility of the state to reimburse that dealership? Where does it stop, is my point.”


The theft of catalytic converters has grown dramatically nationwide because, as bank robber Willie Sutton said, “that’s where the money is.”

According to Autozone.com, “the critical reason that people hear more and more about stolen catalytic converters is that these parts are moneymakers. They consist of platinum, rhodium, and palladium, all of which are precious metals. Because of this, a converter’s scrap value can yield well over $200 per piece, and some larger, rare converters can even fetch over $1000, based on the metal’s current scrap rate.

“Since 1975, all automobiles have had to have a catalytic converter—however, some converters interest crooks more than others. For instance, trucks and SUVs are effortless to get under, which makes them an excellent target. The higher up your vehicle sits, the easier it is to steal the catalytic converter. And, usually a larger engine will have a larger converter with more metal content inside.”

As with many other aspects of vehicular emissions – notably Vermont’s participation in the California emissions regulations requiring no sales of new internal-combustion cars after 2035 – the increase of catalytic converter theft in Vermont seems to be following California’s lead. Autozone: “From 2019-2020, Los Angeles County reported a 400% increase in catalytic converter thefts. In the state of California, there was over an 85% increase in converter replacement service.”

The pandemic is also blamed for the uptick in CC thefts. Stateline reported last November that the number of catalytic converter thefts skyrocketed during the pandemic, driven by high unemployment, more cars sitting in driveways and a spike in the value of the metals used to make the devices, platinum, palladium and rhodium. Rhodium was selling at $2,300 an ounce in early January 2019, according to Kitco.com, a precious metals retailer that tracks prices. Earlier this month, it was $13,250 an ounce. As of today, it’s $20,250. 

Categories: Crime

6 replies »

  1. Our police need the reinforcement of the courts. There is far too much catch and release of repeat offenders and ridiculously low punishments that puts repeat offenders back on our streets and encourages repeat behavior. Mike glad to see you this as an important issue, too.

  2. Since these devices are required on vehicles by federal law, their theft or tampering should be prosecuted in the federal courts WITH MANDATORY PRISON TIME both for the thief and those who traffic them.

  3. Another precious metal, lead, could help discourage a CC thief from stealing yours fr while the vehicle is parked in your driveway.

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