The war in Ukraine could lead to shortages of precious metals and therefore more thefts of catalytic converters

CHICAGO (CBS) — Catalytic converter thefts have been on the rise for years and now, and economists and chemists warn the war in Ukraine could make the problem worse.

The reason for this is that the precious metals inside catalytic converters often come from Russia. As CBS 2’s Tim McNicholas reported, the scarcity of these metals can affect the value and market value of catalytic converters.

Christian Moreno’s security video shows someone pulling up next to his black sport utility vehicle this week at West Lawn. Then, a flashlight is lit under the SUV as thieves cut off its catalytic converter.

“It’s really frustrating. People in the city — myself included — sometimes live paycheck to paycheck,” Moreno said.

A day later, less than a mile away, thieves cut another.

“We have to take it to a store to get it fixed,” said another victim, Elsa. “Right now, it’s not an expense anyone would need or want.”

This is of course undesirable, but it is far from unprecedented. A State Farm spokesperson said the insurance company paid nearly 2,000 claims for theft of catalytic converters in Illinois in 2021, up from 480 in 2019.

“It’s going to cost me between $800 and $1,400 to fix it,” Moreno said. “I mean, how would you feel?”

And the problem could soon get worse. Catalytic converters are valuable because they contain rare metals, including palladium (Pd).

And about 40% of the palladium mined in the world comes from Russia. Economists and chemists say the sanctions will create more demand, even in the underground market.

“We might expect, at least in the short term, until alternative sources of these metals can be found, that we would see metal prices increase – and therefore the value of catalytic converters increase – and perhaps in response, catalytic converter thefts,” said Chad Syverson, an economist at the University of Chicago.

“We see all the horrible things happening in Europe right now, and we see these sanctions against Russia – which are putting very intense pressure on palladium prices,” added John Anderson, a chemist from the University of Chicago. .

Now Moreno wants scrapyards and anyone who buys catalytic converters to step up their screening.

“Probably by entering information before buying these things – you know, who sold them – and they should try to do something about it,” Moreno said.

And he hopes to see no more uninvited guests going after his catalytic converter.


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