Serial Number vs. Price Lists to Identify Catalytic Converters Scrap Value

Serial Number vs. Price Lists to Identify Catalytic Converters Scrap Value

The oldest question in the catalytic converter recycling book is, “How much is my converter worth?” But the truth is, there is no one universal, readily available digit. There are simply too many moving pieces of this grand puzzle to put a finger on an exact price. Catalytic converters do, however, have one thing in common: absolutely none of them live the same life.

What Makes Scrap Converters Value Vary So Much?​

Emission Laws​

Converters turn harmful emissions from vehicles into less environmentally dangerous gases, and as the world acclimated to declining climate change, different countries and states put in place their own emission laws. For example, a converter that was built and put in place for a Californian car will have higher concentrations of Platinum, Palladium, and Rhodium than one, say, in Texas. When those two converters end up at evaluation, their concentration of precious metals will vary.

Manufacturing Differences

It’s also important to take in consideration that manufacturers have different tolerances.

As we’ve mentioned above, emission laws vary. Manufacturers must adhere to different tolerances to comply with emission laws per geographic region cars are being delivered to.

Because of tolerances, freshly made converters of the same model and serial number will not have the same amount of precious metals nor the same value.

Material Type

The vehicle and material type are also important aspects that make scrap converters vary in price. Converters for trucks and hybrids vary incredibly in Platinum Group Metal (PGMs) loadings, for example. In addition, OEMs, aftermarkets, DPF, and foil converter types all vary in loadings and value.


Every catalytic converter lives a very different – if not unique – lifecycle. In this aspect, so many factors come into play, including mileage and vehicle maintenance. A unit can lose, depending on vehicle lifecycle, between 5% to 20% of its value until it is scrapped.

How to Determine Catalytic Converter Value if They’re All Different?​

The answer is not so simple. Determining converter value by serial number means, inevitably, depending on an inexact science. And working with a price list means depending on averages.

Serial number catalogs

Serial number catalogs prices are not guaranteed. Suppliers are entering serial numbers into databases to try and pinpoint the refined value of their catalytic converters, but here’s the real deal. Those prices are only reflective of a single analysis of a specific catalytic converter unit of that serial number.

Considering every converter lives a unique life, the one you’re holding in your hand right now – even if the serial numbers are identical – does not have the same PGM loadings. That’s why prices can’t be guaranteed.

Additionally, since cats are under a vehicle, simply put, they’re dirty. Because of rust and corrosion, and depending on weather and mileage, serial numbers can disappear. When scrap catalytic converters are taken out of end-of-life vehicles, not all have retained their serial numbers so, if you’re looking to work with a serial number database with incomplete codes, the prices you will walk away with might not be reflective of your converter’s true value.

In conclusion, for serial number catalogs, suppliers need to be aware that they are dealing with prices that are not guaranteed to reflect the units they are in possession.

Price lists

The rule of thumb with price lists is to remember that you’re working with averages. For a unit, you’ll be looking at an analysis made for all the converters a company assembled of that same unit type. Then, based on the results, a value is averaged out and published.

Because of the average nature of a price list, you may find yourself losing money. Why? The converter you’re holding onto right now as you search through a price list may be worth even more than the average you see on that list. If you’re looking to purchase scrap converters, then you may also be paying way over what they’re really worth. As we’ve mentioned above, a converter’s value depends on its lifecycle, material type, region of origin emission laws, and manufacturing differences.

That means, buying & selling per unit is accepting a predetermined value for your converters without knowing the true value, like playing a game of chess.

The Most Accurate Way to Find How Much Your Catalytic Converter is Worth​

According to PMR experts, determining exact value for scrap catalytic converters is a combination of many sources. Suppliers need to be aware of the risks associated with the precious metal market, especially with uncertain market trends. And that means having access to information from both price lists and serial number catalogs.

Using a combination assures that you have all the information you need to make the right business decisions.

Work with a Toll-Refiner

But again, here’s the thing. Working with a toll-refiner would get you as close to the accurate precious metal value as possible. Most catalytic converter processors separate by material type and assay converter lots, which results in pricing that reflects an entire load of your converters and not by unit.

It’s also important to work with a processor that’s transparent with their information and methods, so you have both the confidence in your assay results to turn a profit and the knowledge you need to grow your operations.

The bottom line is, there is no one truth or universal law to determine converter value. There isn’t one equation that gives all the answers. Suppliers need to be agile with both serial number catalogs and pricing lists and have access to information so that they can make the best decisions. Working only by price lists is accepting to work by estimate only and serial numbers don’t guarantee any price.

Working with a processor that gives access to a combination of both serial number catalogs and price lists means having all the information possible to make smart, profitable moves when it comes to buying & selling converters.

Don’t just get an idea of your converters’ value; get all the tools & information you need to know the exact, refined value so you can turn a profit and stay on top of fluctuating market trends.

Visit PMR’s resource center for more information on the converter processing world.

Published: November 30, 2022
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