Recent news has highlighted a dramatic increase in the theft of catalytic converters from cars, with police forces across the country seeing a surge in the expensive components being taken.
London has been hardest hit, with the Metropolitan Police recording more than 2,900 catalytic converter thefts in the first half of 2019. That compares with 1,674 thefts in the whole of 2018.
What does a catalytic converter do?
A catalytic converter forms part of the exhaust system on a car. It processes the emissions from a combustion engine into less harmful gases, before releasing them into the atmosphere.
Catalytic converters first gained widespread use in the 1970s, with the United States making them mandatory from 1975 onwards. They became a common feature of modern 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 metals such as palladium, rhodium, and platinum.
Market values for these rare materials have increased substantially in the past 18 months.
Palladium can be sold for £1,300 per ounce, with rhodium is worth up to £4,300 per ounce. Such high figures naturally make catalytic converters a desirable target for thieves.
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 the 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, converters can then be sold to unlicensed scrap metal dealers.
Why are hybrid cars being targeted the most?
Hybrid vehicles, such as the Toyota Prius, have seen a larger increase in the volume of catalytic converters being stolen.
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 else can I do to protect my catalytic converter?
Not all cars are at such risk, with some models having the catalytic converted 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 how to reduce the risk of your catalytic converter being stolen. These include:
- Parking your car in a garage overnight
- Ensuring your car is parked to make accessing the catalytic converter harder
- Trying to park in a location that is well-lit and overlooked
- Installing CCTV to cover where your car is parked
- Marking your catalytic converter with a forensic marker, which can make it harder to sell on by thieves