In just the past week, Andrew Reichenbach’s car repair shop has had three Mitsubishis come in with their exhaust pipes sawed off. The thieves were after a precious metal — tucked into almost all American vehicles — in such demand that it costs 15 times the price of gold.
“We’ve had 60 or 70 in just our shop alone if that gives you a sense of the magnitude of these thefts,” the mechanic said. “Most of my customers are just baffled. Like, why would somebody do this?”
The metallic element is housed in a bulbous piece of aluminum, called a catalytic converter, that encases a honeycomb structure that filters fumes. A single troy ounce, which is slightly heavier than a regular ounce, of rhodium cost around $27,000 last week — more than a brand new Toyota Prius. That’s up from $1,700 three years ago.
Because of shortages, the high value of rhodium is expected to persist until at least 2025.
Criminals who steal rhodium-containing catalytic converters usually sell them to a network of scrap merchants, officials say. Each converter generally contains about $400 worth of the precious metal.