Catalytic convertor thefts rising

  • Fivefold increase in catalytic converter thefts
  • Rising scrap prices driving criminal activity
  • Cost of replacement could be as much as £2,000

Concerns have been raised over the upsurge in catalytic converter thefts, caused by the continuing increase in the price of scrap metal.

Recent figures show that the number of thefts has escalated dramatically over the past few years, with over 2,300 being stolen in the first five months of 2011 alone. In 2009 around 1,100 catalytic converters were reported stolen in the UK (excluding London), meaning thefts have risen fivefold.

Catalytic converters, common on most cars made from 1992 onwards, are installed in exhaust systems to reduce emissions. They contain precious metals that react with the hot exhaust gases, converting them into non-toxic substances. The materials used commonly include gold, platinum, rhodium and copper.

This means that a scrap converter can be worth as much as £200, especially those from cars with larger engines. As they can take as little as a few minutes to remove, they're a tempting target for thieves - especially as the price of precious metals continues to rise.

Having your catalytic converter stolen could leave you with an unpleasant surprise. Besides having to take your car off the road to get it fixed, the cost of a replacement part and fitting could easily reach £2,000.

Vehicles that are particularly prone to this type of theft are those with high ground clearance - trucks, pickups and four-wheel drives. These allow easy and quick access to the exhaust system, meaning minimal hassle for a potential thief.

Northamptonshire police said: "Thieves are known to strike in broad daylight, in busy areas. They look for easy targets and 4x4 vehicles are especially at risk".

Besides the cost of new converters, catalytic theft causes particular problems for company car, van and truck fleet operators who also suffer additional costs in the form of vehicle downtime or replacement hire.

One major issue at the moment is that there is no way of identifying one part from another, so a legitimate scrapyard can unknowingly take in stolen catalytic converters. The problem is, however, that even marking or stamping the casing will not stop thieves as identifying marks are easily removed - or simply ignored - when it comes to selling it on.

Some aftermarket manufacturers have stepped forwards with more aggressive solutions. Concerned owners can now buy protective cases that shield the catalytic converter, or bike-lock style assemblies that chain it to the vehicle's chassis. These, while still overcome with some effort, are intended to deter thieves by making the removal process longer and more complicated. 

If you're not keen on modifying your vehicle, then the usual anti-theft techniques can be applied - such as parking in busy areas or having an alarm system fitted that includes a proximity alert.

Fortunately, the theft of a catalytic converter will be covered by your insurance policy. You may have to pay your stated excess - for example £250 - but the remaining cost of replacement shouldn't cost anything, although it may reduce your no-claims bonus.

As with all cases regarding insurance, however, it's best to check with your policy supplier to confirm the details.