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Surge in catalytic converter thefts

By Adam Tudor-Lane | February 4, 2020


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Cutting through the fairly thin exhaust either side of the cat takes minutes, then the thieves are off and away with the equivalent of around £400

Surge in catalytic converter thefts

Catalytic converter thefts are on the rise, this time it’s not just vans and commercial vehicles being targeted as it has been in the past. In the first six months of last year, there were 2,894 reported thefts, that number has grown by just over 1,200 compared to 2018. Catalytic converter thieves targeted six cars at a Nuneaton dealership last weekend.

But why are these pollution saving devices being stolen, and what does the ‘Cat’ actually do?

The Catalytic Converter

Every modern car has a catalytic converter (or cat for short) fitted. They scrub the harmful emissions that engines produce while you drive. The gas produced flows from the engine down a short section of exhaust and into the cat which sits below your car, roughly beneath where your handbrake lever is located.

As you drive the cat heats up and starts to react with the emissions, breaking down carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons, these are turned into carbon dioxide and water before being pushed out the exhaust tip.

Why are catalytic converters being stolen?

At first, it seems an odd crime, why would anyone want to steal a device that scrubs nasties from your cars exhaust system?

It’s all to do with what’s inside them. To make the magic happen precious, rare earth metals are used inside the catalytic converter. Platinum, palladium and rhodium are used in the fine mesh that’s found inside. Take that to a scrap metal dealer for them to extract it, and you could be in for a pretty penny.

In the last year and a half, the price for precious metals has increased phenomenally. Rhodium sells for around £4,000 an ounce while palladium is roughly £1,900, which is more expensive than gold. You’re effectively driving around with money hanging underneath your car. Money that’s pretty easy to pilfer.

BBC reports say footage of one gang has been seen where they steal a catalytic converter from under a car in just three minutes.

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How do thieves steal catalytic converters?

Typically there will be a lookout, then a second thief either jacks up or just slides under a parked car with a battery-powered angle grinder. These high-powered devices are the same that motorbike thieves have been using over the last few years.

Cutting through the fairly thin exhaust either side of the cat takes minutes, then the thieves are off and away with the equivalent of around £400 in their hands.

As with most crimes the cover of darkness seems to be loved by catalytic converter criminals, along with wet weather, the rain helps to dampen the noise of the cutters.

Are they targeting certain cars?

Yes, currently it seems hybrid vehicles are the thieves preferred delicacy. Hybrids often have far fewer pollutants running through them due to their eco-friendly part battery-powered nature; therefore, there’s more of the precious metals left intact.

Hybrid SUV’s and crossovers are especially susceptible, they don’t need to be jacked up so make the criminals life far easier.

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How do I know if my catalytic converter has been stolen?

It isn't hard to spot if your catalytic converter has been stolen, you’ll know as soon as you start the car, instead of it being nearly silent it will sound like an old motorbike or a rally car, loud and obnoxious. Within seconds a warning light will also probably ping up on your dash telling you the emissions system is faulty.

How much does a new catalytic converter cost?

Catalytic converters are hard, complexed things to produce, so they aren’t cheap. Upwards of £400 will probably get you a cheap aftermarket one, these tend not to last as long as original manufacturer items, so it’s always best opting for a branded one from your local dealer. This will cost you around double or more when labour is added. 

How can I prevent my catalytic converter being stolen?

Police are advising to park in a garage, a well-lit area or to inscribe your registration number or chassis VIN onto the cat. Not particularly helpful advice when many of these thefts are happening in daylight when people are parked up out and about. Nefarious scrap metal dealers also probably won’t give two hoots about seeing your reg scratched into the converter.

You can actually buy catalytic converter locks for roughly £100. You’ll have to make sure it will fit your vehicle though as catalytic converters come in all shapes and sizes.

While these can’t stop theft completely, they should act as a deterrent, most theft prevention is all about deterrence. If your vehicle is going to be too tricky, they’ll simply move on to another.

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