Scrap Catalytic Converter 101

Catalytic converters are vital components in modern vehicles, serving a critical role in emission control. This guide delves deep into what catalytic converters are, why they're valuable, common issues they face, and practical advice on selling and protecting them.


Prices of scrap catalytic converters

What is a Catalytic Converter?

A catalytic converter, or cat for short, is a part of the exhaust system. Reducing the emissions of certain gases from the vehicle's engine is the main purpose of a catalytic converter. They started being required on manufactured vehicles in the 1970s, and removing them from the vehicle is illegal if you plan to continue driving it.  

The materials inside of the catalytic converter help break down certain gases, such as carbon monoxide or nitrogen dioxide. These materials are usually precious metals such as palladium, platinum, or rhodium. These metals cause a chemical reaction that changes these poisonous gases into carbon dioxide and water vapor.

Removing the harmful gases emitted by the vehicles allows car manufacturers to stay below the limits imposed by the Environmental Protection Agency. It also reduces the number of dangerous gases we breathe in daily. 

Key Functions Explained:

  • Emission Reduction: Catalytic converters transform harmful gases into less harmful emissions, making cars more eco-friendly.
  • Regulatory Compliance: They ensure vehicles meet stringent environmental regulations and pass emissions tests.

Precious metals in the catalytic converter

Why are Catalytic Converters Valuable?

The precious metals within catalytic converters, such as platinum, palladium, and rhodium, make them valuable. These metals are not only rare but also have a wide range of industrial applications, contributing to their high market value.


Platinum is one of the more common metals put into a catalytic converter. It is worth over a thousand dollars per ounce and can be used in other commodities such as electronics or jewelry. 


Palladium is also commonly used in catalytic converters. It is usually used in gasoline engines, while platinum is more common in diesel vehicles. This metal is currently worth almost triple the price of platinum. 


Rhodium is another metal used in cats and is the most valuable by a long shot. Rhodium is used because it takes less metal to do a much better job of creating the chemical reactions needed to reduce emissions. A quick search of the rhodium market shows it is worth over $20,000 for an ounce of this rare metal. 

Common Issues and Symptoms of Failure

Catalytic converters can fail for various reasons, affecting vehicle performance and increasing emissions.

Causes of Failure Explored:

  • Wear and Tear: High mileage and age can lead to normal wear.
  • Engine Problems: Issues like bad fuel injectors or spark plugs can damage the converter.
  • Physical Damage: Impacts from road debris can cause physical damage.
  • Fuel Contamination: Using leaded gasoline or having contaminated fuel can lead to failure.

Identifying Symptoms:

  • Performance Issues: Reduced power, poor acceleration, and increased fuel consumption are common signs.
  • Noise: A rattling noise may indicate internal damage.
  • Odor: A sulfurous smell suggests the converter is not processing gases correctly.
  • Warning Lights: An illuminated check engine light can signal converter issues.

Replacement Considerations

Deciding whether to replace a catalytic converter involves weighing various factors.

Key Considerations:

  • Cost: Replacement costs can be significant, depending on the vehicle.
  • Regulatory Compliance: Ensure the replacement meets state-specific emissions standards.
  • Warranty Coverage: Check if the replacement is covered under the vehicle's emissions warranty.

How to fix a bad catalytic converter

There are a few different strategies for fixing a bad catalytic converter. We will start with the least expensive first, and work our way up to the most expensive. You should be able to manage the first two, but the last two should be left to a mechanic:

1. The Italian tune-up

If you do a lot of stop-and-go driving at low-to-moderate speeds or never accelerate hard enough to get your car and catalytic converter thoroughly warmed up, the "Italian tune-up" may work for you. By going out on a highway with very little traffic, accelerating hard repeatedly, and running at higher speeds for a prolonged period, you may be able to burn off deposits that have accumulated in your catalytic converter. This can improve the efficiency of your catalytic converter and restore its performance - and it costs you nothing!

2. Catalytic Converter Cleaner

Let's say that you find yourself in a position where you need to pass a smog test, but your Check Engine light is on and indicates that you have a bad catalytic converter. In addition, you don't have any other indications (rattling, bad smells, etc.) that your catalytic converter is terminal. Before you spring for a new catalytic converter, give this a try. You add a bottle of this product to your gas tank when it is ¼ full, then fill the tank, have a mechanic clear the trouble code, and drive until the system recycles (usually around 100 miles). If the Check Engine light stays off, the cleaner has likely worked, and you should immediately have your car tested. There is no guarantee with this method, but at around $25.00 out of pocket, it does not cost much to try it.

3. Universal-Fit Catalytic Converter Replacement

If your car is registered in a locality that permits it (check your local regulations), you may be able to replace your bad catalytic converter with a less expensive universal catalytic converter. This will cost you much less than a catalytic converter made specifically for your vehicle. The only downside is that the installation may cost more, but you should still proceed.

4. OEM Catalytic Converter Replacement

Also known as direct-fit, this is a replacement catalytic converter that is designed to fit and work on your specific vehicle. It will cost significantly more than the universal-fit catalytic converter but will be easily and quickly installed.

A word about states with strict emissions regulations

In states like California and some others, replacement catalytic converters must be registered with and approved by the state's Air Resources Board. These catalytic converters are stamped with an EO (Executive Order) number specific to your vehicle, are the only type of catalytic converter replacements that are allowed, and are very expensive! The good news is that you are exempt from this requirement if your car is over five years old, and its manufacturer's emissions warranty has expired. Again, check your local regulations to determine what is allowed under the law.

How to Sell a Catalytic Converter

Selling a catalytic converter can be lucrative due to the precious metals it contains.

Steps for a Successful Sale:

  1. Research Market Values: Stay informed about the current prices of platinum, palladium, and rhodium.
  2. Identify Potential Buyers: Look for scrapyards, online buyers, or junkyards interested in converters.
  3. Obtain Quotes: Provide detailed information, including the serial number and photos, to get accurate quotes.
  4. Negotiate: Use your research to negotiate the best possible price.
  5. Finalize the Sale: Complete the transaction and receive payment.

How much are scrap catalytic converters worth?

Determining scrap catalytic converter prices is a challenge that requires some experience and market knowledge.

If capable of removing the cat, a regular Joe might not be able to make the total value of a cat by selling it. These parts typically have very small amounts of valuable metals, which means you would need many catalytic converters to make a lot of money. 

The market for scrap catalytic converters is very competitive. Automotive shops receive multiple phone calls weekly from people looking for catalytic converters scrapped from totaled vehicles.  

These people collect as many as possible to separate them by the metals they are made from and extract the valuable ones.  They are also valuable to thieves.

Extracting these metals is another reason you might not get an excellent price for the catalytic converter in your garage. It takes work to remove the metals worth selling, so you may only get $20-40 if you sell your cat to a scrap guy. 

There are many different types of catalytic converters, and the type of cat is a huge indicator of its worth.

Small, medium, large, foreign, domestic, and even aftermarket converters exist.

You can tell the difference between some of these by their size, shape, and even the stamps put into the metal, which indicates the manufacturer. For example, a large foreign cat could bring you a couple hundred dollars, while an aftermarket one is probably worth less than ten. 

In conclusion, the true value of a catalytic converter depends on the market and the material. If people are willing to buy scrap catalytic converters, extract the metals, and resell them, catalytic converters will be worth something.

The easiest and quickest way to make money selling a scrap catalytic converter is selling it to your scrap yard. A scrap yard will be able to determine the type of cat you bring in and give you the best price based on the current market value of those particular catalytic converters.

Which Car Models Have More Expensive Catalytic Converters?

Not all vehicles are created equally; the same goes for catalytic converters. Several cars stand out in terms of how expensive their catalytic converters are.

1. Ferrari F430 — $3,770

This Ferrari model requires two catalytic converters, which makes the price double. There are over $7,500 worth of catalytic converters underneath one vehicle.

2. Lamborghini Aventador — $3,120

Similar to the Ferrari, this supercar requires two converters. While the replacement cost of over $6,000 may not be a financial upset to a Lamborghini owner, it's certainly a large expense.

3. Ram 2500 — $3,460

The Ram 2500's catalytic converter is more expensive than the Lamborghini's, though it only requires one. Trucks make easy targets for thieves, as they're lifted already, and the exhaust system is easier to access.

4. Ford F-250 — $2,804

Ford is a popular make in the USA, and this model has a hefty price tag attached to its catalytic converter. Owners should keep their trucks in a garage or an enclosed space whenever possible. The powerful engine requires a converter with more grams of precious metals.

5. Ford Mustang — $1,500

Though this make is not a truck, the larger engine equals a more expensive catalytic converter. Thieves would have to lift the vehicle to access the converter, which can happen in less than 5 minutes.

On these model vehicles, owners must protect their converters from theft. Experienced criminals can remove a catalytic converter in less than 5 minutes, making off hundreds of dollars in value and leaving the owner's insurance on the vehicle with a hefty replacement bill.

Why Do Scrapyards and Junkyards Buy Catalytic Converters?

Scrapyards and junkyards purchase used catalytic converters to make a profit. The business models are similar in buying items to resell them for a higher value, thus profiting from their purchase. Junk yards focus on buying junk cars for a low price to remove and sell working parts such as engines, transmissions, and various odds and ends that others may need to replace on their vehicles.

Scrap yards aren't necessarily in the business of selling metal to the public. They buy metal, such as vehicle frames, to process and sell to a recycling plant that can reuse the metal in a new product. Heavy-duty machines shred metal and sort it according to its value, such as ferrous and non-ferrous metals.

A junkyard will offer the best price when scrapping a whole junk car. They have room to profit by removing the components under the hood and selling them for an inflated price. A scrap yard is the best local route for selling a catalytic converter removed from a vehicle.

Prevent Theft of Catalytic Converter

The high value of catalytic converters makes them targets for theft, but there are measures you can take to protect your vehicle.

Effective Anti-Theft Strategies:

  • Parking Security: Choose well-lit, secure parking areas or use a garage.
  • Anti-Theft Devices: Install devices specifically designed to protect catalytic converters.
  • Marking: Engrave the vehicle's VIN on the converter to deter thieves and aid in recovery if stolen.

Catalytic converters are essential for both environmental protection and regulatory compliance. Understanding their function, common issues, and value can help you maintain your vehicle's performance and make informed decisions when it comes to selling or replacing them. Given the rise in catalytic converter theft, taking proactive measures to protect this valuable component is more important than ever.

Where to Buy a Catalytic Converter?

In the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has banned the re-use of used catalytic converters as a replacement. This means those who have experienced a converter theft will likely have to go the new route to get a legal replacement. Parts and labor aren't cheap, generally ranging from $1000-$2500, depending on the vehicle's model.

New catalytic converters can be found at any auto shop. If they don't have one in stock that works on a particular vehicle, they can order one and have it within a reasonable timeframe. Most of the time, they don't install the converter, so that a mechanic will be necessary. Mechanics can order parts, though they won't be OEM. After-market catalytic converters work just as well. Dealerships can order OEM parts, though they will be more expensive. When going through a mechanic or the dealership, they can install the new catalytic converter.

Who Buys Catalytic Converters Near Me?

Depending on where you're located, there are likely to be several junk yards, salvage yards, and scrap yards nearby. Those living in a more remote location may require some driving to reach the yard. It's always best to call ahead to ensure that the trip isn't wasted and that they'll buy your catalytic converter for a fair cash price.

Though online buyers aren't nearby because they have a physical location, they're as close as clicking a few buttons online. This can be the most convenient option for those who don't live by a scrap yard and who would prefer to handle the negotiations virtually.

Local Junkyards

Everybody has a local junkyard, even if you've never seen it. A quick online search will pull up the junkyards nearby, and they can be contacted about buying a catalytic converter. Some may not wish to buy the piece independently, as it isn't functional to resell in most cases. Other junkyards will buy them to turn around and sell them to a scrapyard.

Local Scrapyards

Nearby scrapyards are a solid, dependable option for selling a catalytic converter. They will purchase the converter based on its value in precious metals. They offer a fair price, though not always the highest price. Scrap yards are experienced in dealing with metals in various shapes and forms, including the expensive rhodium and palladium inside the honeycomb structure of a converter.

Online Buyers

Online buyers are the number one option for buying a catalytic converter. These buyers are well-versed in the value of metals, including how the prices fluctuate according to changes in the market. Online catalytic converter buyers will offer a higher price as they have lower overhead.

Maximizing Value: Selling Catalytic Converters vs. Junking a Car

When deciding between selling a catalytic converter separately or junking a car as a whole, it's essential to consider your knowledge and resources. A catalytic converter, containing valuable metals like platinum and palladium, can be a significant source of revenue. However, extracting and selling it requires specific expertise and tools.

Selling a Catalytic Converter

  • Pros: High value due to precious metals; potential for a better return if sold separately.
  • Cons: Requires knowledge of extraction and market; risk of damaging the converter or other car parts.

Junking a Whole Car

  • Pros: Simpler process; no need for specialized knowledge; immediate payment for the entire vehicle.
  • Cons: Potentially lower overall return compared to selling valuable parts separately.

Making the Decision

If you lack the know-how or tools to safely remove and sell a catalytic converter, junking the entire car might be the better option. It offers a straightforward way to receive payment without the risks and complexities of parting out valuable components. Always weigh the potential gains against the effort and risks involved to make the most informed decision for your situation.