A recent rash of auto part thefts has rattled the Louisville area, threatening to further derail an industry that’s been hard hit by dwindling stock and parts shortages. Thieves have been targeting catalytic converters — the exhaust emissions control device which prevents vehicles from releasing toxic gasses into the air— removing them from the vehicle’s undercarriage while they’re parked. As vehicle sales continue to stagnate and thefts rise, one local Parkway Village, Kentucky car dealer is seeing the potential to subsidize his struggling business.
While he lacks any formal chemistry training and thinks the periodic table is just a type of table which you only use on certain occasions, Phillip Anderton is undeterred, busily crafting potential solutions in his increasingly noxious garage workshop. The used car dealer, owner of Phil-Ville Autos, has already produced a number of prototypes and only been admitted to the ER twice throughout the process.
Anderton’s most promising prototype should be well-familiar to most anyone who’s ever owned a Pink Floyd poster, blacklight, or hacky sack. Described by Anderton as a “toxin-neutralizing filter affixed to a cylindrical fiber exhaust-air interface,” the catalytic converter stand-in looks to the untrained eye to be an empty toilet paper tube stuffed with dryer sheets.
“It smells like fresh laundry with just a hint of summer breeze, but that’s how you know it’s working,” said Anderton, who’s been toying with the design long before the recent spate of catalytic converter thefts. While chronically unable to remember certain dates, names, and faces, Anderton traces his fascination with the filter technology to around the time he formed a Rush cover band in high school. Though still in the testing phase, the inventor is encouraged by the device’s historical success in masking questionable fumes.
“I’m not saying that I’ve perfected the technique, but to this day, my mom thinks I was just really into making clay ‘vases’ with the Grateful Dead logo carved into them,” says Anderton. “She still has one displayed in the living room, and I like to bring her fresh Scarlet Begonias just to give myself a laugh.”
The process of removing a catalytic converter can take as little as one minute and requires nothing but an angle grinder and a general disregard for the social contract. The unassuming hunk of metal can be worth as much as $2,000 thanks to the rare earth metals used in the conversion process, making catalytic converters an easy mark for criminals looking to turn a quick buck.
Tests show that while the jerry-rigged converter is incredibly ineffectual at removing dangerous fumes due to its complete lack of platinum, palladium, and the other pricey elements used in traditional designs, the fresh scent and low cost make it an attractive prospect for some cash-strapped drivers.
“They’ll try to tell you that my converter doesn’t work very well––I think ‘at all’ were their specific words––but that’s just another example of Big Rhodium trying to corner the market,” says Anderton. “Science is really more of an art than a…I’m not sure; I forget how the rest of that quote goes because my short-term memory has really been slipping since around when I started my research.”
Catalytic converters are required on most modern vehicles, drastically reducing harmful emissions by removing over 90 percent of hydrocarbons, carbon monoxides, and nitrogen oxide from the exhaust. When removed, a vehicle will drive rough, loud, and stinky, though Anderton says he’s got the latter issue covered. “For a small upcharge, drivers can select from a variety of scents including Hawaiian Breeze, Apple-Berry, and a Lavender scent that is really calming, though part of that admittedly comes from the carbon monoxide,” Anderton says.
The used-car-salesman-turned-inventor has been encouraged by early results and is even starting to suspect that the part’s importance might be drastically overstated in the first place. “At least a couple of those elements seem made up to me. I mean, Palladium? I’m pretty sure that’s just a character class in Dungeons & Dragons,” he says. “This whole experience just proves what the great Dr. Leo Spacemen said in that documentary 30 Rock: Science is whatever we want it to be.”