SHERIFF'S CORNER: Muffler Treasure Chest

Remember the days when you didn't need anything but a muffler and a tailpipe. And when your tailpipe rusted you just replaced it with a Campbell soup can?

Then we approached the era of air quality and low emission standards. This resulted in the use of catalytic converters, as some hillbillies refer to them as "Cadillac" converters. The catalytic converter is housed in a box on the vehicle's exhaust system. It cleans up exhaust gases before they are expelled from the exhaust pipe.

This is great for air quality control, but has created some issues with theft. The elements that are contained within these converters (that are used to lower emissions) are actually precious metals.

When I say precious metals, I mean metals that are worth more than the price of gold.

How is that possible? I thought gold was the most precious of metals?

In this edition of the "Sheriff's Corner," I cover the theft of catalytic converters and the precious metals contained within.

HISTORY

The average vehicle was a toxic chemical generator before catalytic converters were mandated in 1972. Oxides of nitrogen and lead, unburned fuel, sulfur dioxide and huge amounts of carbon monoxide were emitted in large amounts, polluting groundwater and the sky above. Catalytic converters work like extreme ovens, storing exhaust heat and using it to convert many of these dangerous compounds to less dangerous forms.

Prior to this, catalytic converter prototypes were first designed in France at the end of the 19th century, for "oil cars" which were used sparingly on the roadway. Those converters were made of an inert material coated with platinum, iridium and palladium, sealed into a double metallic cylinder.

Although catalytic converters are most commonly used for exhaust systems in motor vehicles, they are also used on electrical generators, forklifts, mining equipment, locomotives, motorcycles and on ships.

DEFINITIONS

So, let's first define what a catalytic converter is and what are the requirements to have one.

MCL 324.6303 states:

"(1) "Emission control device" means a catalytic converter, thermal reactor, or other component part used by a vehicle manufacturer to reduce emissions or to comply with emission standards prescribed by regulations promulgated by the United States environmental protection agency under the clean air act."

The Clean Air Act of 1990, 203(a)(3)(A) and (B) states:

"Under federal law, catalytic converters may not be removed and replaced with "converter replacement pipes' by any person. ... even prohibit private individuals from installing "converter replacement pipes" on their own vehicles."

WHY ARE THEY BEING STOLEN?

The use of valuable precious metals including platinum, palladium and rhodium make catalytic converters a target for thieves. The metals are expensive, and thieves sell the converters to scrap yards for $150 to $200 per piece depending on the size of the converter and the current rate on the metals inside it.

Another “why” is because catalytic converters are easy to steal. In some cases, a thief only needs a saws-all and usually doesn’t even need a carjack. Since there are no numbers connecting the catalytic converter to a particular vehicle it is next to impossible to verify which vehicle it was taken off of.

And finally, the COVID fiasco has made many people hard-up to such an extent that they resort to theft. People aren’t using their cars as much so a theft may go unrecognized for days. But once the owner starts his or her vehicle up they know immediately something is wrong or missing. It will sound like a vehicle without a muffler.

PRECIOUS METALS

As we all know silver and gold are precious metals that are worth a lot of money, there are a few other precious metals that are worth way more than what these are worth that are contained within these catalytic converters. Let's provide you with a short break down.

Gold (Price per troy ounce as of 3/29: $1,735.10): Gold, enough said. Used for coins, bling, doubloons, mouth grills, chains, rings, Goldschlager, wedding rings, etc...

Platinum (Price per troy ounce as of 3/29: $1,162.95): It is a dense, malleable, ductile, highly unreactive, precious, silverish-white transition metal. Platinum is primarily used in catalytic converters for diesel vehicles. 45% of the platinum sold in 2014 went to the automotive industry.

• Palladium (Price per troy ounce as of 3/29: $2,666.55): Palladium is the most expensive of the four major precious metals — gold, silver and platinum being the others. It is rarer than platinum. More than half the supply of palladium is used in catalytic converters, which convert as much as 90% of the harmful gases in automobile exhaust into less noxious substances

• Rhodium (Price per troy ounce as of 3/29: $26,850.00): This extremely rare, most valuable and silvery-colored metal is commonly used for its reflective properties. It has a high melting point and an amazing ability to withstand corrosion. Rhodium is used in catalytic converters that reduce toxic gas emissions and pollutants.

WAYS TO PREVENT THEFT

As any vehicle can be a target for theft, hybrid vehicles are targeted the most because their catalytic converters contain a higher concentration of precious metals and are generally less corroded. Some examples of hybrid vehicles are the Honda Jazz, Toyota Prius, Toyota Auris and Lexus RX.

Here are some tips to limit the chances of having your catalytic converter stolen:

• When possible, park in well-lit areas and close to building entrances.

• If you have a garage at your house, park your car inside and keep the garage door shut.

• Have the catalytic converter welded to your car's frame, which may make it harder to steal.

• Consider engraving your vehicle identification number (VIN) on the catalytic converter — this may help alert a scrap dealer that it was stolen and make it easier to identify the owner.

— This information is provided to you for clarification on specific laws, and not legal advice. This is not to be construed as a personal opinion, agreement or disagreement of any specific law. Topics covered are for educational and informational purposes only. As needed, excerpts from other articles are used for reference and/or content. If you have any questions on any specific topic, you may always email me your questions to rmartin@co.lake.mi.us.