There has been a huge rise in catalytic converters being stolen from cars in 2019, police in London say.

For the first six months of 2019, the number of thefts of catalytic converters jumped to 2,894, compared to 1,674 thefts for all of 2018.

In a car’s exhaust system, catalytic converters filter pollutants and turn them into less harmful substances.

In a video seen by us, a criminal gang stole a catalytic converter in under three minutes in broad daylight.

The prices of certain precious metals have skyrocketed in the last 18 months – palladium is now worth £1,300/oz, while rhodium goes for £4,000/oz, according to FJ Church and Sons, a specialist metals merchant that is also the UK’s largest specialist in recycling catalytic converters.

The police urged vehicle owners “to be vigilant” and consider taking safety measures to protect their cars.

How the theft works

A catalytic converter is located in a box on the exhaust pipe under a car. In order to steal it, thieves slide under the car and use high-powered cutting tools to detach the box from the pipes around it.

Although there are 10,000 different types of converters, the cars that are most often targeted are hybrid vehicles.

Since hybrid cars have two power sources – electric and petrol or diesel – the catalytic converter is used less frequently to process pollutants. The metals are less likely to corrode, meaning they are worth more and thus attractive to thieves.

Precious metals must be used because the converters have to work efficiently enough to meet carbon emissions standards.

What can we do about it?

The police has advised that vehicle owners consider taking the following safety measures:

  • Mark catalytic converters with a serial number to make it distinctive
  • Place a protective covering over the catalytic converter
  • Install CCTV and alarms
  • Park vehicles so as to prevent access underneath

Carmaker Toyota is very concerned about the thefts, and says it is “doing all [it] can” to support its customers who have been victims of crime.

Besides consulting with the police and offering customers safety tips, Toyota has developed “Catloc”, a device which makes it harder for thieves to detach the catalytic converter from the bottom of the car.

“Although ‘cat theft’ is not new, or limited to Toyota products, it has always been comparatively rare; however, the recent rise in the value of such parts for recycling has meant that police forces have seen a very significant rise in these offences in the last few months,” said a Toyota spokesman.

Toyota does not make money when replacing stolen catalytic converters in cars, and it is also bearing the cost to discount the Catloc device for its customers, while it researches more anti-theft technologies.

Honda has a different take on the matter – it says that Honda Accord and Jazz models from 2008 onwards come with a tray under the car to make it harder for thieves to get at the catalytic converter.

And in car models from 2015 onwards, the catalytic converter has been placed within the engine bay, so a thief would need to disassemble the car to get at it.

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