Car owners urged to take action as catalytic converter thefts soar 600%

Car owners, especially those with hybrid models, are being urged to take steps to protect themselves from organised gangs stealing catalytic converters.

Thefts of the essential exhaust components rocketed 600 per cent last year, according to a BBC investigation, with drivers left with huge bills to replace the stolen parts.

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In 2018 there were around 2,000 reported thefts of catalytic converters in England and Wales but in 2019 this shot up to nearly 13,000. Figures for Scotland and Northern Ireland were not available.

The devices, which help to control and convert vehicle emissions, are an easy high-value target for criminals. Each converter contains a wealth of precious metals, including rhodium, palladium and platinum, which can be stripped out and sold on, or the whole unit can be sold as a spare part.

The metals used in the converters have a high resale value (Photo: Shutterstock)

Hybrid cars are particularly vulnerable to thieves because they tend to produce lower emissions, meaning the metals in their “cats” are less corroded that in traditional petrol and diesel vehicles.

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Replacing the part can cost more than £1,000, with the AA reporting that claims can reach as much as £3,000 depending on the damage caused when the part was removed.

Hybrids particularly at risk

Clive Wain, head of police liaison at vehicle recovery specialist Tracker, said owners needed to make sure their vehicles were protected from thieves who often simply jack up the vehicle and unbolt the device.

He said: “Plug-in and self-charging hybrid vehicles are a highly desirable target for thieves as their catalytic converters, which turn the noxious gases in a car's exhaust system into less harmful substances, are less corroded than those in petrol and diesel vehicles which rely on them more.

“But there are simple steps owners can take to protect their vehicle, including physical barriers to make thieves think twice before targeting their car. Installing an alarm that activates if the vehicle is lifted or tilted are particularly effective and owners should consider investing in a catalytic converter protection device or marking system.”

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Lack of action

The Scrap Metal Dealers Act of 2013 introduced rules requiring all scrap dealers to be licensed and banned the payment of cash for scrap metal in a bid to reduce metal theft. It also gave councils in England and Wales power to revoke the licence of anyone deemed unsuitable to hold one. Similar legislation was introduced in Scotland in 2016.

However, according to the BBC report, senior figures in the scrap metal industry believe that some unscrupulous licensed businesses are knowingly buying the stolen parts from unlicensed scrap dealers, rendering the stolen metals untraceable.

The investigation also found that many councils had taken no action to inspect or shut down dodgy scrap dealers. Almost half (120) of the 243 councils in England said they had carried out no inspections in the past 28 months, with the Local Government Association blaming “limited resources”.

Tips to prevent catalytic converter theft

Park in a garage or other secure area. If you don’t have access to a garage, try to leave your car in a well-lit and overlooked areaInstall cameras – Thieves don’t want to be caught on camera. Installing CCTV to keep an eye on your car or parking in areas covered by public CCTV is good protection.Consider installing a Thatcham approved alarm to your vehicle. Ones that activate if your vehicle is lifted or tilted are particularly effective.Use a catalytic converter protection device, such as a Catloc or Catclamp which make it hard to access the converter, or have the device etched with a unique serial number.