Catalytic converter thefts are at an all-time high, with a 44 per cent increase in claims in 2020, compared to 2019, new research has revealed.
Thefts remain high so far in 2021 with a 57 per cent increase in claims for catalytic converter thefts in March this year compared to the same month last year, according to data from Admiral Insurance.
The insurer is warning motorists to be vigilant as the figures show no sign of slowing down.
Prices can be high with the average cost of a claim for a stolen catalytic converter coming in at more than £1,500, depending on the amount of damage the thieves caused and the type of car targeted.
Thefts of catalytic converters are at an all-time high, with a 44% increase in claims in 2020
Why are catalytic converters stolen?
Catalytic converters make up part of the exhaust system in some cars and they process the emissions from a combustion engine into less harmful gases.
Thieves target them for the precious metals including gold, platinum and palladium that are used within the catalytic converters in some cars, which are then sold on for profit.
Currently, palladium is more valuable than gold, and platinum is worth around two thirds the value of gold.
Despite the high value of the precious metals used within catalytic converters, they are relatively simple to steal as the exhaust is exposed beneath most cars, making them an easy target.
Lorna Connelly, head of claims at Admiral, explains: ‘The theft of catalytic converters is often carried out by opportunist thieves who may be working their way around different neighbourhoods.
‘This isn’t always the case, however, and there is evidence to suggest that criminal gangs are involved in these types of thefts.
‘The precious metals used within catalytic converters are sold at a profit, and that profit could be used to fund even bigger crimes not just in the UK but also abroad.
‘We believe that many stolen catalytic converters are taken abroad by criminal gangs, which could explain why the thefts dropped off during the first lockdown last year.’
Theft: Honda Jazz is one of the most popular cars for catalytic converter thieves to target
The cost of repairing a vehicle after a catalytic converter theft will depend on how the thieves have removed it.
Insurers say that as the thefts often take place in a hurry, the damaged caused to the vehicle in the process can result in a more expensive claim.
Lorna adds: ‘Many of the cars targeted are older models, maybe because the quantity of precious metals their catalytic converters contain is higher. Unfortunately, if the damage to these cars is too severe, they may need to be written off.
‘When the car can be repaired, the work can be delayed as there is a shortfall of replacement catalytic converters given the sheer volume of the thefts taking place and supply just can’t keep up with the demand. This can cause additional distress as motorists have to wait longer for their car to be repaired.’
Cars including the Honda Jazz, Toyota Prius, Toyota Auris and Lexus RX are targeted most often, with older models in particular being singled out.
Hybrid cars are targeted the most because their catalytic converters contain a higher concentration of precious metals and are generally less corroded.
Catalytic converter crime wave ‘explosion’: The AA says it has seen was called out to almost 4,000 cases where the emissions controlling device had been stolen from the underside of cars, which is a 6,780% jump in instances compared to 2017
AA sees 6,760% ‘explosion’ in catalytic converter thefts
The AA has also described the rise in catalytic converter thefts from vehicles as an ‘explosion’ after separate research showed its patrols attended almost 4,000 cases last year where emissions devices had been ripped from the underside of cars.
The vehicle recovery service said it was called to just 57 instances of broken down motors found to have had their catalytic converters stolen in 2017.
That figure rose to 3,910 in 2020 – a leap of 6,760 per cent over just four years.
The motoring group said it is now working with police and vehicle manufacturers to combat the crime wave, which has turned into a lucrative swindle for organised thieves, especially in the capital.
The number of breakdowns attended by the AA due to catalytic converter thefts has been increasing in recent years, rising from fewer than 60 in 2017 to nearly 600 in 2018 and over 3,000 in 2019, the motoring group said.
And although cases plummeted during the first lockdown, they soon rallied, reaching nearly 4,000 in 2020.
More than half of incidents occur within Greater London, though the problem is now spreading outside of the capital.
AA Patrol leader Iain Gillespie said his team of 27 technicians receive three or four reports per week of damage caused by catalytic converter thefts – a scale of cases he has never witnessed before.
Iain said: ‘Thieves are targeting cars in workplace car parks which they know will be there all day, so they’re striking during daylight or at night at people’s home address.
‘It will normally come through as a ‘noise from under vehicle’. The patrol will call the member and say that they’re on the way but suspect the cat has been taken, at which point the customer often checks under the car and sees wires hanging down.
‘Watching people fall apart in front of you is horrible. It’s not what a patrol is used to as normally with a breakdown, somebody hasn’t been the target of a crime.
‘It also leaves people with anxiety about where to park; if it was taken in a place they normally park, such as at home or work, they have little choice but to continue parking there.’
Handout photo issued by the Metropolitan Police of a number of stolen catalytic converters recovered by officers after more than 300 officers took part in an early morning operation on Tuesday 23 March to smash what is believed to be a criminal network fueling an increase in the thefts of catalytic converters across London
The resulting damage can cost thousands of pounds to repair, and lead times for replacement parts can be up to two months.
It is usually possible to claim for the damage on insurance, but in some cases the vehicle may be a write-off.
‘The AA is determined to help stop this crime explosion and is working with police and manufacturers to help get more cars water marked so that cat cops can target rogue dealers and organised gangs and prove that the cats were stolen,’ says AA president, Edmund King.
‘The motor industry is helping by offering replacement cats and cages at cost price and helping the national roll-out of smartwater marking of cats.’
Motor insurance provider Zurich also revealed this week that it has seen a five-fold increase in two years for claims made by customers whose catalytic converters have been stolen.
Worryingly, it says the situation appears to have worsened during lockdown, due to the economic backdrop and as demand for these materials has intensified because of the pandemic’s impact on mining.
Commenting on the data, Gillian Ferguson, head of motor claims at Zurich said: ‘Our data does confirm a worrying trend which is likely to increase given the ongoing shift we’re seeing towards people buying less polluting hybrid vehicles.
‘We urge our customers to take safety precautions ideally parking cars in a locked garage or well-lit area and speak to their dealership for advice on approved alarms and other security measures they have developed to help curb the problem.
‘Toyota for example has started a national catalytic converter marking programme having worked with police forces to help reduce this type of crime.’
Police tips to keep your car safe from catalytic converter thieves
– If possible, park in a locked garage or in a well-lit, densely populated area
– If you don’t have access to a garage, park close to fences, walls or kerbs with the exhaust being closest to the barrier; this will make the theft more difficult
– Avoid mounting your car on the kerb to park as it gives thieves easy access
– If your catalytic converter’s bolted on ask your local garage to weld the bolts to make it more difficult to remove
– Consider a ‘cage clamp’ which locks around the converter
– Speak to your car dealership about a tilt sensor that activates the alarm if someone tries to jack up your vehicle
– If you see someone acting suspiciously under a vehicle, report it to the police
SAVE MONEY ON MOTORING
Some links in this article may be affiliate links. If you click on them we may earn a small commission. That helps us fund This Is Money, and keep it free to use. We do not write articles to promote products. We do not allow any commercial relationship to affect our editorial independence.