How Scrap Catalytic Converter Prices Are Determined

Boosted Catalytic Converter Prices at RRCats

Learning About Catalytic Converter Pricing

Over the years, we have heard many stories about different catalytic converter pricing and how people always feel like they are getting cheated while selling their cats. Well…we listen to you and have even been in that boat before; not knowing what is worth is one of the hardest things to do when scrapping because you are essentially trusting whatever scrap yard or catalytic converter purchaser to tell you the truth…that’s tough.

So, let’s take a step back and talk about where the prices for catalytic converters come from and go from there.

What’s Inside A Catalytic Converter?

That has been a question we have heard and talked about many times, but we want to try to make it a little clearer to learn. Three primary metals and other materials are used inside converters.

  1. Platinum – Platinum is used and tends to be the best metal for overall performance in the catalytic converter field. Platinum can be used as a metal that helps to negate the fumes and pollution from the car’s engine. Before it comes to exhaust, to trap the harmful particles, and through different ions, it will negate the negative environmental effect.
  2. Palladium – Generally more expensive than Platinum, so it tends to be a higher-end luxury item for catalytic converters.
  3. Rhodium – Used a reduction component to help eliminate the fumes and paired with palladium to help eliminate more toxins.
  4. Ceramic or Metal Foil – This is what you see and is actually under precious metals. The honeycomb pattern you see throughout the catalytic converters is meant to have all of those openings and surface space to have more and more exhausts pass over it and capture the harmful toxins.
  5. Metal Shield – These are generally steel on the outside but can often be found as magnetic stainless steel or a regular 303/304 stainless steel case.

Suggested Reading: How Do Catalytic Converters Work?

Comparing Catalytic Converter Prices to Copper Wire Prices

If you want to compare catalytic converter pricing to copper wire, it may give you a better idea of the recovery and the markets. Let’s take an everyday wire like THHN wire and make a comparison. Copper is relatively easy to price because it is traded, and a pound of copper will equal whatever the market is today. So, for our example, let’s say it is worth $1.00 per pound (I hope it is higher when you are reading this!).

If you have 100 pounds of THHN and the copper content is 75%, that means that 100 pounds * 75% = 75 pounds of copper, and at $1 per pound, it is worth $75.

That was easy, right? Straightforward? Sure! But how do we do that for catalytic converters? That is the problem. The everyday scrapper, auto wrecker, parts guy, or scrap yard generally cannot do that because they need a lot of the same type of cat to get that percentage of each precious metal, and THAT is very hard to do.

100 Pounds of Catalytic Converters could have various amounts of those precious metals compared to the next 100 pounds. This problem is why catalytic converters must be priced per piece, not by weight.

How Much Precious Metal Is Inside A Catalytic Converter?

With thousands of different grades of catalytic converters out there, you would need to collect thousands of catalytic converters each and then assay each of them as separate lots to get an accurate percentage and know what each is worth that day. Let’s apply the copper example to a sample catalytic converter recovery.

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Let’s say platinum is worth $100 per ounce in today’s market, a nice round number (again…we hope it’s worth more than that while you read this!!!). You find a car with a catalytic converter, and just by chance, you can refine that cat1 and get just the platinum recovered. Assuming none of the inside honeycombs was missing, and the recovery goes perfectly, maybe you get 0.5 ounces of platinum out of it, which multiplied by $100 per ounce would equal $50.

You may think that that cat is worth $50, but you are not taking a few things into account. The recovery process, waiting to get paid, profit from whoever you sell it to, etc. All of these will make the cat only worth $30 on the open market, and that is where the price will come from.

How Much Copper Is Inside A Catalytic Converter?

While Copper is the gold standard when scrapping most other materials, there really isn’t much copper to write home about in the average cat. Generally speaking, you’re lucky if you get 2 lbs of copper from a catalytic converter, and considering all insulation and other contaminants you may have to deal with, the real value of that is everything else.

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What Are Diesel Catalytic Converters & DPFs?

Since the late 2000s, DPFs (Diesel Particulate Filters) have been introduced as a new catalytic converter in the diesel world. There was a problem with diesel engines generally being dirtier burn than gas engines.

We are sure that many of you have been driving and have seen that black smoke billowing out of a dump truck or tractor-trailer on the road and said…yuck! Well, so did many auto and truck makers, and they started to do something to change it (new laws helping to cut greenhouse emissions also had something to do with it).

These new DPFs have been able to help cut down on black smoke emissions and help diesel trucks, vans, buses, and other cars burn much cleaner and more efficiently….. They have created a new category of catalytic converters for scrap!

These DPFs and the catalytic converters that will go along with them generally have a much higher value (anywhere from 3 to 200 times!!!) than the older catalytic converters from earlier models of identical vehicles and trucks. Thus…we have seen scrap prices flourish since many of these vehicles have been on the road since 2009!

Why Aren’t All Converters The Same Price?

One answer…impossible, but we will explain. Unless you have 100 catalytic converters off of the exact vehicle, all containing the same material, and can do an assay of those cats through a trusted processor, it will be tough to know the number of precious metals inside.

This is why scrap yards and catalytic converter buyers exist: to buy these from you (at hopefully a fair market rate), pair them with other cats they have, and ship them to downstream vendors and processors.

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The value of catalytic converters per piece comes from many buyers doing significant assays of the same type of cats, knowing what the recovery of precious metals will be from the inside, and then being able to use a formula based on the spot market pricing on the platinum, palladium, and rhodium markets to create a price.

Boosted Catalytic Converter Prices at RRCats

What To Pay Attention To With Converter Prices

Watch two primary markets: platinum and palladium. These are the two most considerable indicators for the market and how the recovery for catalytic converters will happen down the road….compare the prices to the last 12 months of pricing, or even five years, and you can see where the metals markets are, and where the prices could be.