Car owners warned as catalytic converter thefts soar under lockdown

Georgia Petrie

Written by

Georgia Petrie

Exhausts with white smoke
  • Huge rise in the number of catalytic converter thefts
  • Catalytic converter cleans harmful gases in the exhaust system and contains valuable metals
  • Criminals use a pipe cutter or similar tool to cut the catalytic converter from the exhaust pipe

You may not have heard the term 'catalytic converter' before, but the increasing number of thefts of these valuable units has been making national news rounds lately - and for good reason.

Admiral car insurance has reported a huge increase in the number of catalytic converters being stolen, with 400 claims in January 2020 alone. The Metropolitan Police also announced a 73% rise in catalytic converter thefts - with almost 3000 reported stolen in the first half of 2019, compared with 1674 for the whole of 2018.

Cars that are often targeted are those with higher chassis, such as a 4x4 or an SUV, however, because they are easier for criminals to slide under and cut the device off. But with lockdown forcing millions of car owners to stay at home, cases are soaring and criminal gangs are targeting smaller cars, too. 

What is a catalytic converter?

In short, a catalytic converter is a device that reduces the level of pollutants emitted by your car by converting harmful exhaust gases into water vapour and less harmful gases.

Where is the catalytic converter on my car?

A catalytic converter is often located in the exhaust system under your car. Some newer models, like versions of Honda models from 2008-onwards, are designed to house the catalytic converter where it can’t be reached by thieves - with later versions having the catalytic converter bolted directly to the engine inside the engine bay.

In order to steal the catalytic converter, thieves slide under the car and use cutting tools to separate the item from the pipes around it.

Does my car have a catalytic converter?

All modern petrol and hybrid cars have a catalytic converter fitted, so most car owners should take some level of precaution against theft. The thefts also take just a matter of minutes and are known to sometimes happen in broad daylight - so be wary of where you park.

Why are catalytic converters stolen?

Thieves target catalytic converters because they contain specific precious metals - Palladium and Rhodium - that have increased in value over the last few years. The stolen parts are then sold on at scrapyards and the like.

According to a report in The Guardian, palladium sold for about £138 per ounce in 2008 but in February 2020, it was trading at £1803.  

Are hybrids more vulnerable to catalytic converter theft?

Hybrid models, which contain a higher percentage of precious metals, are particularly at risk - especially easily-identifiable models. The catalytic converters on hybrid vehicles are also used less frequently to remove pollutants. The metals are therefore less likely to corrode, which means they will be higher quality and worth more money. 

How do you prevent catalytic converter theft?

There are a few ways to decrease the likelihood of catalytic converter theft, with the first being to be mindful of where you leave your car. Most people avoid parking in low-lit areas to avoid their car being broken into. Well, the same goes. The unit is usually located under the car, so parking your car in a well-lit and well-populated area will help improve its safety. Parking close to fences, walls or kerbs makes the theft more difficult, too.

The police advise drivers to mark catalytic converters with a serial number to make it distinctive and to install CCTV and alarms where possible.

You can purchase devices that lock around the converter to make it more difficult to remove, as well as tilt-activated alarms.

What does a catalytic converter cost to replace?

Just as you’ll find with every car part, it’ll depend on the make and model of your car. If you have a larger engine, you’ll likely have to pay more to replace the catalytic converter. A rough estimate would be anywhere between £200 and £800 for a larger, modern car.

Smaller cars, like a Kia Picanto, with smaller exhaust systems and engines, will lean more towards the £150-£250 mark.

However, it’s also worth mentioning that because you’re extremely unlikely to recover your costs from the thieves themselves for obvious reasons, meaning there's no one to claim damages from. If you report the theft to your insurer, you may be hit with a higher premium at renewal, as well as your excess being used to cover the cost (or some of it).

Will my catalytic converter be stolen more than once?

As silly as this sounds, yes - it could be. In fact, we’ve heard from one driver who had their catalytic converter stolen three times - resulting in a sky-high premium. Having it stolen and paying for the replacement doesn’t make you immune to falling victim to the same crime again - so ensure you follow our anti-theft advice as a preventative measure.

See also:

What are the best ways to prevent catalytic converter theft?