From about $ 500 an ounce five years ago, the price of palladium quintupled to a record $ 2,875 an ounce last year and is now between $ 2,000 and $ 2,500 an ounce above gold. Rhodium prices are up more than 3,000 percent from about $ 640 an ounce five years ago to a record $ 21,900 an ounce this year, roughly 12 times the price of gold.

Rising prices could accelerate the shift to electric cars, analysts said, noting that catalysts now account for a much larger proportion of the cost of a gasoline-powered vehicle than they did a year ago.

Metal prices, in turn, fuel a black market for stolen catalytic converters, which can be sawed off the belly of a car in minutes, and bring in hundreds of dollars in a junkyard, which then sells them to recyclers who extract the metals. These global trends in emissions regulations, metal markets, and theft seem to have grown together in Mr Kevane’s driveway that rainy night.

In some cases nationwide, the police report an increase.

In St. Louis, catalytic converter thefts have increased from 50 in 2019 to more than eight-fold 420 last year, with the trend picking up momentum towards the end of the year through early 2021. In Lexington, SC, Sheriff MPs responded to 144 catalytic converter thefts between July and December, nearly three times the number of the same period last year.

Converter thefts in Wichita, Kan., Also nearly tripled to 547 cases from 191 in 2020 year over year, and the pace picked up in January, with 102 cases reported that month only. (Other law enforcement agencies, including those in San Jose, New Mexico, and New York, said such detailed data was not available.)