Motorists across the UK are being warned that next year they may be at greater risk of the latest vehicle crime, which is already rampant in the capital.
Catalytic converter thefts are rampant in London, with organized criminals hacking the emission control devices – which contain expensive precious metals – from the underside of vehicles in broad daylight.
Damage caused by thieves desperate to remove them from vehicles results in insurance claims between £ 2,000 and £ 3,000, according to the AA, and in the worst case scenario, some engines have been written off entirely.
The analysis by Compare the Market has shown which cities outside of the capital are already affected by the crime wave and at which locations catalytic converter thefts have increased the most compared to the previous year.
Car crime that could hit the UK in 2021: Catalytic converter thefts are most common in London, but cases are already rising in the cities
The data is based on device thefts reported to the police in the 2017/18 to 2019/20 financial years.
Only 20 British Armed Forces responded to the Freedom of Information Settlement page request sent to a total of 33 police officers in August.
Analyzing the data shows how widespread it has become in London. In London, 15,237 thefts of catalytic converters were registered in the three-year period – far more than anywhere else.
Birmingham was the second most affected area with 320 thefts, while Coventry was third with 287 thefts over the same period.
|rank||city||Thefts in 2017/18||Thefts 2018/19||2019/20 thefts||total|
Source: Compare the Market
* Figures for Manchester and Bolton are not exhaustive as the data is from a system that has not been updated since July 9, 2019
Compare the market report after BBC 5 Live reported in August that this type of theft increased six-fold between 2018 and 2019.
It found that 13,000 cases were reported in England and Wales last year – up from 2,000 in 2018.
In an additional nasty twist, the BBC said criminals are actively tracking vehicles owned by NHS staff – because they’re parked for extended periods of time during shifts, giving them ample time to remove the equipment.
Those statistics go hand in hand with an increasing number of stories and videos of gangs smashing gadgets under cars parked on the street and owner driveways – a repetitive story that has made headlines in Mail Online.
Catalysts: why are they attacked by thieves?
All gasoline vehicles manufactured from 1993 onwards are legally equipped with catalytic converters to reduce harmful pollutants from the exhaust pipes.
The devices absorb the gases generated and convert them into water vapor and less harmful emissions through a series of chemical reactions.
They are made from a range of valuable materials such as palladium, rhodium, and platinum – and criminal gangs are well aware of these small fortunes that are tucked away under your vehicle.
Currently, palladium is even more valuable than gold, having doubled in two years, while rhodium is more than four times higher in value than gold, according to a recent study by Money Mail.
A troy ounce (1.1 ounce) of gold was found to be worth $ 1,731 (£ 1,392) while palladium was selling for $ 1,914 (£ 1,539).
Rhodium, which is sold in regular ounces, went on sale in June at a price of $ 8,300 (£ 6,675) an ounce.
Platinum is currently about half as high as gold.
With gangs likely to have regular buyers for the lined up metals, criminals unscrew, saw, and hammer the devices off as quickly as possible to escape undetected.
According to the insurer Admiral, thieves even have models specially designed for parts of the best quality.
All are hybrid cars ripe for thieves as the catalysts contain a higher concentration of precious metals and are generally less corroded.
According to Admiral, the most vulnerable hybrid models are the Honda Jazz, Toyota Prius, Toyota Auris, and Lexus RX of all generations and ages.
Hybrid cars are ripe for thieves as the catalysts contain a higher concentration of precious metals and are generally less corroded. So it’s no wonder the Toyota Prius – the UK’s best-selling hybrid – is on the list of cars that criminals chase
Honda’s hybrid version of jazz is also on the shopping list of these organized criminals. The Jazz is popular with older drivers and therefore has tended to accumulate fewer miles, which means their catalysts are in good condition
The Toyota Auris Hybrid (left) – the sister car of the Prius – was also identified as the main target by Admiral. The Lexus RX hybrid SUV (right) is another model that is often hunted by catalytic converter thieves
Locations in the UK where catalytic converter thefts have increased the most
Some locations have been identified by Compare the Market with low numbers of thefts, but warns that criminal activity has increased recently.
Warrington – ranked 14th on the list of hardest hit areas overall – had only one reported case in 2018/2019, but incidents jumped to 28 in the last fiscal year – a growth of 2,700 percent.
The second largest increase was in Wolverhampton – eighth overall – as the number of cases rose 1,475 percent from four in 2018/19 to 63 in the last fiscal year.
Coventry saw a 652 percent increase, while London – by far the hardest hit area – saw a 380 percent year-over-year increase from 2,600 in 2018/19 to 12,483 in fiscal 2019/20.
|rank||city||Thefts 2018/19||Thefts 2019/20||Increase compared to the previous year|
|Source: Compare the Market|
The rising cases are despite Admiral’s claim earlier this year that catalytic converter thefts had decreased when the UK was locked down from March.
However, it was reported that there had been a “significant” increase since June, when home stay restrictions were lifted.
Lorna Connelly, Claims Manager at Admiral, said: “The increase since June has been substantial and shows that thieves are once again stealing the precious metals that are found in catalytic converters in some cars, which are then resold for a profit.”
Police tips to protect your car 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 near fences, walls, or curbs with the exhaust closest to the barrier. This will make theft more difficult
– Avoid mounting your car on the curb for parking as this will allow easy access for thieves
– If your catalytic converter is bolted on, ask your local workshop to weld the bolts to make removal difficult
– Imagine a cage clamp snapping into place around the converter
– Talk to your dealership through a tilt sensor that will trigger the alarm if someone tries to jack your vehicle
– If you see someone acting suspiciously under a vehicle, report it to the police
Organized criminals search the streets for vehicles that are easy to get to and carry jacks and tools to quickly remove the exhausts in another vehicle so they can escape quickly
How are devices stolen when experts warn that ham-fisted thieves are writing off cars?
Organized gangs are cleaning areas equipped with jacks to lift vehicles off the ground and allow easy access to valuable equipment.
While more experienced thieves unscrew them from the underside of cars, others are more likely to use ham-fists and saw or hammer them out of the exhaust system, causing irreversible damage and causing some owners to have to replace entire exhaust systems.
What are catalysts and why are they so valuable to thieves?
Modern cars are equipped with catalytic converters to reduce harmful emissions of hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides into the atmosphere.
They contain a ceramic honeycomb core that is coated with metals such as platinum, palladium and rhodium.
The metals act as catalysts and convert the harmful gases into water vapor and less harmful emissions.
Criminals are ripping anti-pollution devices out of cars and vans because they contain increasingly precious and sought-after metals like platinum and palladium – leaving motorists at huge repair costs.
With scrap prices soaring, thefts have increased tenfold in some areas.
The police and AA say that catalysts to thwart the thieves can be clearly marked in acid with a serial number.
Motorists are advised to keep their cars in garages or park in well-lit areas. Most converters are screwed on – but they can also be welded.
And because there is often no third party to claim against, drivers who use their policies to cover repair costs also lose their no-claims discount unless otherwise protected.
Last year, a video recorded by a member of the public showed a gang stopping traffic on a busy London residential street in broad daylight to remove one of the devices from a parked Toyota Prius.
In August, a masked duo was caught on camera lifting a parked silver Honda Jazz and turning off the converter on a quiet street in Stoneygate, Leicester.
Some of those who have had their device stolen have had to wait a long time to get a new one and get their car back on the road thanks to the increase in thefts and rapidly developing parts supply problems.
This means that they cannot use their cars until a spare part is installed. Otherwise there is a risk of fines.
Toyota said last year it did not see a “rapid rise” in thefts, which in turn “affected our ability to get enough parts we need in some cases.”
In some cases, this has resulted in vehicles being completely written off due to the damage caused by thieves ripping the devices from the underside of cars.
MotorEasy automotive association analyzed 10,000 garage bills last year and found that the average cost of replacing a catalytic converter is up to £ 1,300 with over £ 900 for parts.
However, according to AA, claims ranged from £ 2,000 to £ 3,000 if the equipment was sawed off the exhaust.
Last year, AA Insurance announced that the claims of drivers having catalytic converters jammed out of their parked cars had increased significantly – some had stolen them twice from the same engine.
Motorists caught by the police driving a vehicle knowing that the catalytic converter has been removed can even be fined up to £ 1,000 for the car causing more pollution than they are allowed to.
However, the extra noise the exhaust makes when a catalytic converter is removed rather than replaced is so loud that motorists know something is wrong.
While the vehicle is still drivable, removing the device triggers a warning light on the dashboard, reduces fuel consumption and causes many headaches with additional exhaust noise.
The catalytic converter is part of a vehicle’s exhaust system. Criminals in a hurry saw them off, causing irreversible damage that can lead to repair bills of up to £ 3,000
What is being done to combat catalytic converter theft?
Devices to secure your catalytic converter
Affected drivers may purchase devices that will snap into place around the converter to make removal difficult.
The providers include Catloc and Catclamp, which can be installed in various vehicles.
They’re not cheap, however, with prices as high as £ 250 for some models.
The Scrap Dealers Act, introduced in 2013, aimed to make it harder for thieves to sell stolen metal parts to dealers by banning cash sales and requiring companies to perform identity checks on sellers.
While the councils are responsible for conducting inspections of licensed dealers – and shutting down those found to have purchased parts that were clearly jammed – the BBC 5 live investigation found that there are few levels of enforcement.
The report found that of 240 licensing councils contacted in England, nearly 120 had not visited scrap dealers in the past 28 months and many of the others had only inspected once or twice.
However, a small number had taken action against identified rogue traffickers with the assistance of the police.
The BBC report said, “Part of the problem is that when the Scrap Dealers Act came into effect, thousands of scrap dealers simply decided to get out of the licensing system.
“Many of them, according to the industry, are now traders who advertise on the Internet and buy catalytic converters without asking any questions.”
Nesil Caliskan, of the Local Government Association, accused the councils of “limited resources” and “limited powers” to fight unlicensed operators and called on the government to give them stronger enforcement to address the problem.
The police have also recognized the rise in catalytic converter thefts. The number of stolen emissions devices in Kent has increased significantly over the previous year. 214 were stolen in the first 10 months of 2019, compared to a total of 51 cases in 2018.
Palladium in devices was worth more per gram than gold last year, which is why gangs are targeting cars to steal them
The Scrap Dealers Act was introduced in 2013 to force scrap companies to become better vet sellers and not accept cash sales. However, misusing the system means that thieves can still easily benefit from selling valuable catalysts
Deputy Police Chief Jenny Sims, who heads the National Police Chiefs Council on Car Crime, told 5 Live that the police are determined to fight the thefts and the organized gangs behind them with “intelligence operations” that they carry out on both regional and regional levels at national level.
Mike Hawes, executive director of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, told This is Money last year that the theft of catalytic converters “is a concern to both car owners and manufacturers.”
“The automakers are taking all possible steps to make the crime as difficult as possible. Some are even modifying the car design to address the problem,” he said.
‘The industry is providing support and guidance to customers when needed, and working with the police force to figure out what else can be done to arrest the criminals and prevent further thefts.
“In the meantime, the police are advising consumers to park in a locked garage, in well-lit areas and near fences or walls when possible to restrict access under the vehicle.”
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