Recent years have seen a dramatic increase in theft of catalytic converters from cars. These exhaust components are highly sought-after by criminals due to the precious metals inside: palladium, platinum and rhodium.
Catalytic converters (commonly known as ‘cats’) contain up to seven grams of these metals, making them worth several hundred pounds on the black market. And hybrid cars, notably the Toyota Prius, are particularly at risk.
New research highlights the continued problem of catalytic converter theft. Admiral says it received 400 claims in January alone, with thefts on the rise following the original lockdown. Lorna Connelly, head of claims at Admiral, said: “The increase since June has been significant, and shows thieves are back to stealing the precious metals found in catalytic converters in some cars, which are then being sold on for a profit.
“Palladium, platinum, and rhodium found in the converters are worth a fortune to thieves. Currently, palladium is even more valuable than gold, rhodium is worth almost two thirds of the value of gold, and platinum is around half the value of gold.
Here’s what you need to know – including how to reduce the risk of catalytic converter theft from your car.
What does a catalytic converter do?
A catalytic converter is part of a modern car’s exhaust system. It processes the emissions from a combustion engine into less harmful gases, before releasing them into the atmosphere.
Catalytic converters were first used in the 1970s, with the United States making them mandatory from 1975 onwards. They became a common feature of cars in the UK from 1992.
Why are they a target for theft?
The chemical reaction that takes place within the converter requires precious metals to act as the actual catalyst. These include palladium, platinum and rhodium.
Market values for these rare materials have increased substantially in the past 18 months.
Palladium can be sold for £1,500 per ounce, with rhodium worth up to £6,700 per ounce. Both figures are higher than the price of gold.
How do thieves steal catalytic converters?
As part of the exhaust system, catalytic converters are left exposed beneath most cars. This means thieves can simply slide under the car to remove them. SUVs are particularly at risk, as their raised ride height makes access beneath the car easier.
Some are bolted onto the exhaust, with other types being welded into place. The latter can be removed by cutting through the pipework to free the cat.
Most catalytic converters are unmarked, meaning they cannot be easily traced to an individual vehicle. Once taken, they can be sold to unlicensed scrap metal dealers.
Why are hybrid cars being targeted?
Hybrid vehicles, such as the Toyota Prius, account for a large proportion of the catalytic converters being stolen. Admiral data shows that the Prius, Honda Jazz, Toyota Auris and Lexus RX are the cars most susceptible to theft.
Thieves target these vehicles as the catalytic converters are said to be less corroded. The hybrid drivetrain results in lower overall exhaust emissions, leaving the precious metals in better condition.
In turn, this makes them more valuable to sell on.
What are manufacturers doing to help?
The problem of catalytic converter theft is not new, with the AA noting that it has been an issue for more than a decade. This has given manufacturers time to develop ways of keeping cats safe.
Toyota offers a special ‘Catloc’ device, which can be retrofitted to a number of vehicles made by the manufacturer. Priced between £200 to £250 including fitting, Toyota has said it sells the Catloc without making a profit.
The company has also reduced the price of replacement catalytic converters, and increased production to help get drivers back on the road quicker.
What can I do to protect my catalytic converter?
Not all cars are at such risk, with some models having the catalytic converter mounted within the engine bay. This makes it much harder to steal. Drivers should check with their local dealership if they are unsure.
The Met Police has also published advice on reducing the risk of your cat being stolen. The tips include:
- Parking your car in a locked garage overnight
- Trying to park in a location that is well-lit and overlooked
- Avoid mounting your car on the kerb as it gives thieves easier access
- Installing CCTV to cover where your car is parked
- Marking your catalytic converter with a forensic marker (see below), which can make it harder to sell on
- Speak to a car dealer about a tilt sensor that activates an alarm if a thief try’s to jack up your vehicle
Security marking a catalytic converter
Security marking is a cost effective way to reduce the risk of catalytic converter theft. This uses metal etching to leave a permanent mark on the outside of the catalytic converter, intended to make it harder for thieves to sell on.
Kent-based Selectamark, for example, sells a kit specially designed for marking catalytic converters. Priced at £11.99 plus VAT, it includes warning stickers for the windows as a visual deterrent.
The kit also includes registration on a secure database, helping link the cat to the owner should it be sold to a scrap metal dealer.
The cost is a relatively small outlay, given that replacement catalytic converters can stretch to more than £1,000.