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What is the Catalytic Converter and why are they being stolen?

You may not know it, but your car has a part called a catalyst, which is linked to the exhaust pipe to filter gases and reduce polluting emissions.

Everyone knows the need to preserve the environment and, for this reason, since 1988 anti-pollution regulations have been developed with the aim of minimizing the harmful effects on health and the environment produced by the combustion of diesel and petrol engines.

The EURO regulation was born in 1988, but it was in 1992 when it became more restrictive, forcing emissions to be reduced through specific measures such as the incorporation of catalysts, the elimination of lead in gasoline, the reduction of displacement, and the increase of the number of gears in the gearboxes, to reduce the engine speed and, therefore, consumption and pollution.

However, it was a few years before, in 1984, when in Germany the law made it mandatory to mount a catalytic converter or catalytic converter in the exhaust line of gasoline cars, being the beginning of concern for the environment of manufacturers vehicular.

Today, all vehicles, both diesel, and petrol incorporate catalysts or also called catalytic converters. The catalyst is used to control and reduce the gases that are harmful to health and the environment that come out of the exhaust pipe from the internal combustion of the gasoline engine.

Catalyst: where is it located and how does it work?

The catalyst is placed between the exhaust manifold and the first silencer of the exhaust line and is formed by a structure inside of ceramic material with a honeycomb shape. The interior composition includes active substances such as aluminum oxide, noble metals such as platinum, rhodium, palladium, retarders, and promoters that regulate the action of the catalyst when it comes into contact with the exhaust gases.

The catalyst is responsible for transforming the exhaust gases in two phases:

It oxidizes carbon monoxide (CO) and unburned hydrocarbons into carbon dioxide and water.

Produces the reduction of nitrogen oxides, converting them into nitrogen.

These two conversions are possible thanks to the temperatures with which the exhaust gases reach the catalyst.

This transformation is considered partial because, although this reduction occurs, CO2 continues to be a gas that is harmful to the environment and one of the causes of the greenhouse effect.

To guarantee the useful life of the catalytic converter, we must take into account maintenance of the vehicle in due time and at the kilometers recommended by the manufacturer, replacing the spark plugs, the air filter, the gasoline filter if it is incorporated, and especially the engine oil recommended by the manufacturer and keep the level at the correct levels since an excess of oil can cause particles to enter the catalyst and deteriorate it.

If the spark plugs are in bad condition and any of them stop working, it will cause all the gasoline that enters the cylinder to exit the exhaust pipe without burning and if it reaches the catalyst it can cause its internal destruction.

A failure of the catalyst can cause a loss of power and even the car can stop due to its obstruction and the non-evacuation of exhaust gases, having to be replaced by a new one with the economic cost involved.

If we hear metallic noises through the exhaust pipe, it may be that internally the ceramic honeycomb has broken and, therefore, the ceramic material will not fulfill its functions and will not filter the gases properly.

Why are catalytic converters stolen from cars?

The crisis has caused an increase in the cases of theft of catalysts that are sold on the black market, to obtain platinum, palladium, and rhodium; highly valued precious metals.

It is common to find various news in the media about gangs specialized in stealing catalysts. We are more or less "familiar" with the theft of metals, such as copper, because we assume they pay well on the black market.

But why are the catalysts stolen? Is it so profitable?

First of all, it would be convenient to remember what the catalyst is and what it is for. This device produces chemical modifications in automobile exhaust gases before releasing them into the atmosphere. These modifications are intended to reduce the proportion of some harmful gases - mainly carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, and nitrogen oxides - that are formed in the combustion process.

The catalyst has a ceramic panel that is impregnated with a coating of precious metals – palladium, rhodium, and platinum– which, when in contact with harmful gases, react and generate noble or inert gases that are less polluting when they reach the atmosphere. .

The useful life of the catalyst is around 10 years, from which point it loses its effectiveness, although the metals continue to maintain their properties and are recycled for other uses. The catalysts that have already fulfilled their service are recycled in specialized centers through a rather complex process, where platinum, palladium, and rhodium are extracted. Furthermore, few companies are authorized to carry out these functions.

How do they steal them?

Catalyst thieves are equipped with a specific tool to remove these devices, although sometimes they simply cut the exhaust pipe or yank them off by tying a chain to another vehicle. The main targets of the bands dedicated to the theft of catalysts are industrial vehicles because the catalysts are larger - they have more metal - and they are easier to remove.

In recent times, catalyst theft has become such a major headache for trucking companies that some of them have determined to weld their vehicle's catalytic converters to the exhaust pipe to make it more difficult to theft.

How much do the metals cost? - (Prices per ounce)    Palladium £1,733.98 Rhodium  £12,253.43 -Platinum 731.83 (Prices Source)

What happens if the catalyst is stolen?

In the mechanical aspect, the theft of the catalyst should not cause any damage to your vehicle other than the damage itself, since the engine does not lose performance because it does not have a catalyst. In fact, until recently there were those who, when traveling with their car to Africa, uninstalled the catalytic converter from it so that it would not be damaged by the fuel from these countries, of a significantly lower quality than that supplied in Europe.

If the catalyst is stolen, you may be able to claim from your insurance if it is the only element that they have stolen from the vehicle.