What is a Vehicle’s Lifecycle and How Does it Affect the Value of its Converter?

What is a Vehicle’s Lifecycle

Every vehicle lives a unique lifecycle before it’s scrapped, affecting the amount of platinum, palladium, and rhodium left in its catalytic converter once it enters the recycling stream. That means that even converters with identical serial numbers will end up having a different price.

We understand, however, that a vehicle’s lifecycle and how it affects the value of a converter can feel like information overload. To peel away the mystery, we created a video that demonstrates how mileage, maintenance, emission standards, weather, and more affects the value of a converter. Ready to get informed? Check out our video or keep reading.

What Is a Vehicle Lifecycle?

A vehicle’s lifecycle includes mileage, maintenance, and accidents it’s been through before getting scrapped. This lifecycle is also what affects the amount of Platinum Group Metals (PGMs) left in a car’s converter. But that’s not all. There are external factors like weather conditions, state/country emission laws, and vehicle dismantling that also affect a converter’s precious metal content. Let’s get into it.

Vehicle Mileage

The more mileage a vehicle has, the less PGMs are left in its converter. That’s because platinum, palladium, and rhodium are catalysts to a reaction called oxidation. This reaction causes the converter to transform harmful pollutants into less toxic emissions. If a vehicle has high mileage, that means the catalysts have been used quite often to transform these toxic emissions.

Automobile Collisions, Accidents, and Converter Incidents

If a vehicle has been damaged in collisions or accidents, chances are that the converter was affected as well. Any damage to the underside of the vehicle like hitting bumps or speeding over gravel can damage or cut the converter. All these result in loss of precious metal content in the converter.

General Vehicle Maintenance

It’s important to keep a car maintained and repaired. If you’ve gone to your bi-annual oil & tire changes and vehicle checkups, you’ve not only kept your engine in good shape but also the entire car. Well-oiled engines and well-treated vehicles run smoothly, but a vehicle that never sees the inside of a garage will eventually feel the consequences and so will its converter.

Weather Conditions

PGM content in a converter is also affected by the weather conditions it drives and runs through. To give you an example, vehicles in California don’t run idle for a few minutes to warm up. Whereas cars in North Dakota, especially in harsh winters, might idle and run for a while to defrost the windshield and warm up the motor. Long idle runs deplete the precious metal content in a converter.

Ice, salt, slush, and grime found in colder and harsher environments also affect PGM content. They can damage the converter when the vehicle is driven in or over it and cause ceramic loss.

Emission Laws

Converters are devices designed to transform harmful pollutants into less toxic gases, and their PGM content is at the mercy of emission standards. For example, California has strict emission laws, which means every converter manufactured and installed on vehicles sold in this state have high PGM loadings. On the other hand, North Dakota has looser emission standards. That means vehicles sold in that state have converters with less precious metals than those in California.

Converter Dismantling

When a vehicle reaches the scrap yard, it’s time to retrieve the converter. This process is called dismantling, where recyclers use standard tools and methods to cut the converter from the vehicle. If recyclers tear or rip the converter from the vehicle without using proper tools, then the converter will lose ceramic. If the center of the converter is cut, hit, or dented during the dismantling process, it will also lose PGM content.

Now that we understand how PGM content varies per converter and how it affects the value of the unit, let’s dive into how the value of a converter is evaluated.

Assay: Establishing the True Value of Your Converters

Keeping in mind what we learned today, the only way to get the true price for your converters is putting your converters through an assay analysis. Your processing partner will do that for you and analyze your material with XRF benchtop and ICP devices. You’ll get reliable data like troy ounce figures, metal return percentages, PPMs, and more. When you’re ready to hedge, this information will help you lock in your metal market prices profitably.

It's important to work with a processing partner who understands that each converter, even those with the same serial numbers, live a unique life. They’ll equip you with the right converter knowledge to help you buy and sell profitably and get the true value of your material. At PMR, all converter lots are put through rigorous assay in order to produce the most reliable results. That’s because we know that informed recyclers make the best choices for their businesses.

Published: September 19, 2023
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