Police warning as thieves target car exhausts worth more than gold

Modern motor vehicles have exhaust systems with precious metals worth more than gold. Now thieves are targeting parked cars, leaving motorists stranded and with big insurance bills.

Police across Australia have issued warnings over an increase in the theft of car exhaust systems that contain precious metals worth more than gold.

Criminals are targeting vehicles parked in driveways, commuter car parks, and dealer lots.

A recent spate of thefts in shopping centre car parks have prompted authorities to alert the community about suspicious activity, and make a public plea for more information.

NSW Police have released photos of a person of interest who is believed to have crawled under parked cars and hacked the exhaust systems of at least five vehicles in a busy shopping centre on Sydney’s northern beaches.

A NSW Police Facebook post says: “Police have released CCTV images of a person who may be able to assist with investigations after five catalytic converters (exhaust component) were stolen from a number of cars parked in Warringah Mall, Brookvale.”

Police said the thefts occurred about 8pm on Tuesday 30 November 2021, and the offender left a car jack at the scene.

Cataltyic converters have been fitted to all new petrol-powered cars sold in Australia since 1986. 

More than 10 million motor vehicles in Australia are estimated to be equipped with the devices.

A catalytic converter is a large metal tube that forms part of the exhaust between the engine and the mufflers.

They contain precious metals that filter dangerous pollutants, and prevent them from being emitted via the tailpipe.

Car wrecking yards canvassed by Drive say they pay between $30 and $1400 for old catalytic converters, which are then on-sold to metal recyclers.

However, the wrecking yard operators contacted by Drive – who asked to remain anonymous – said the average value of catalytic converters had dropped recently, and the average price they paid was closer to $200 for each of the devices. 

Catalytic converters are usually recovered from crashed cars, but industry insiders say unscrupulous wrecking yards pay cash to thieves who are trying to make a quick buck.

One precious metal contained in catalytic converters – Rhodium – is worth $US13,850 per ounce or $US489.40 per gram at the mining source – about seven times the value of gold.

Most catalytic converters contain one to two grams of Rhodium, worth an equivalent value in Australian currency of up to $680 to $1360.

Another precious metal, Palladium, is worth about the same price as gold at the mining source. Most catalytic converters contain 2 to 7 grams of Palladium, or an equivalent value in Australian dollars of up to $178 to $614.

Each catalytic converter also contains 3 to 7 grams of Platinum – with each gram worth about half the price of gold at the mining source – or $136 to $319 per exhaust unit.

Police say thieves are using tube-cutters and power saws to cut through exhaust pipes in a matter of minutes.

When an owner returns to their vehicle, the car will start but it will be very loud and will run rough, effectively making it undriveable.

Vehicle owners then need to make costly insurance claims and a car can be off the road for weeks while waiting for replacement parts.

It is illegal to drive a car without a catalytic converter if it is designed to have one.

The catalytic converter has an oxygen sensor that measures the flow of gases and helps determine the amount of fuel injected into the engine.

The precious metals and other filters inside the catalytic converter trap soot before it exits the exhaust.

Anyone who notices suspicious activity under or near parked cars is encouraged to contact police.

Meantime, as for the most recent spate of thefts in Sydney, police have asked anyone with information to come forward and contact Crime Stoppers (1800 333 000), where any tips will be handled anonymously.

Joshua Dowling has been a motoring journalist for more than 20 years, spending most of that time working for The Sydney Morning Herald (as motoring editor and one of the early members of the Drive team) and News Corp Australia. He joined CarAdvice / Drive in late 2018, and has been a World Car of the Year judge for 10 years.

Read more about Joshua Dowling


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