Catalytic converter theft has more than doubled in the last few years – and could be set to rise further. Here, we give you the lowdown on the steps you can take to prevent your car from becoming easy prey.
- What’s catalytic converter theft?
- What’s behind it?
- What kinds of car are targeted?
- What can I do about it?
First things first. What’s a catalytic converter?
It’s part of your car’s exhaust. It’s there to filter out harmful emissions and help protect air quality. For that reason, it’s actually (almost always) illegal to drive a car without a catalytic converter in place.
So why do people steal them?
The materials that the converters use to work their magic are expensive. There’s platinum – but also a couple of even pricier ones – palladium and rhodium.
What’s with the surge in thefts?
Covid-19 messed with all kinds of supply chains, including precious metals. As rhodium became harder to get hold of, prices went up. That made it more tempting for crooks. Rhodium prices have come down a bit since Spring 2021, but it’s still hardly cheap. At the time of writing an ounce is worth about $20,000. (That makes rhodium worth about seven times its weight in $100 dollar bills. Tuck that away for your next pub quiz.)
When it comes to palladium, 25-30% of the global supply comes from Russia. Prices spiked massively in March 2022 due to fears that Russia’s war on Ukraine would impact supply. Prices have gone down again since, but doesn’t change the fact that decisions made in the Kremlin can send costs soaring. Obviously, rising catalytic converter theft is a long way down on the horrifying list of things Putin has to answer for, but it could be a potential knock-on effect of his actions.
Petrol prices may also play a role. Converters can only be stolen while cars are parked. So if more drivers are leaving their cars at home to save money in the face of sky-high petrol costs, that could mean more opportunities for thieves. (It’s worth pointing out that with traditional insurance, you pay exactly the same even if you’re using the car way less than expected. With us, if you drive less, you pay less.)
Do they target any particular kinds of car?
All cars that aren’t fully electric have catalytic converters, so they’re all at risk. (To be precise about things, diesel cars have ‘diesel particulate filters’ instead, but they do the same job, use similar materials and are also quite commonly stolen).
Back In 2021, hybrid cars were being targeted a lot. Their converters filter less emissions, so the valuable materials inside corroded less. That made them more valuable to sell on. The Honda Jazz (the most reliable car out there according to our analysis of MOT data) was a particular favourite among thieves for that reason.
Newer cars tend to have converters that corrode less, even if they aren’t hybrid – so that’s now less of an issue. But trends can go on long after they’ve stopped making sense (we still use a floppy disk icon for the save button even though no one’s seen one in the wild for over a decade). So it could pay to be extra vigilant if you have a hybrid, especially one of the more popular Hondas.
One thing that makes a car much more vulnerable regardless of make is ground clearance. If your car’s easier to get underneath – a 4×4 or SUV, maybe – thieves may think of it as a good target.
How can you prevent catalytic converter theft?
Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem that criminals have much trouble finding targets for catalytic converter theft. The (sort of) good news there is that if you can make life a little difficult for them, they’ll probably choose a different vehicle to go after. Following these steps should help:
1) Keep your car in a garage if possible.
If not, try to keep it somewhere well lit and in earshot. Thieves can remove your converter quickly, but it’s not an easy thing to hide as they have to get under the car and make a load of noise sawing in through the tailpipe.
2) Thieves may be put off by visible cameras.
Parking near CCTV or having a doorbell camera that points onto your drive or the street opposite could pay off.
3) Park with your tailpipe to a wall, or another vehicle.
As this is the area thieves are trying to get at, it just makes things much harder for them. According to The Met, most thefts happen in public car parks (and that’s likely to be the case in other parts of the country too). This could be worth remembering when you’re parking up at your local multi-story.
4) Try to avoid parking half up on the kerb.
As we mentioned in our post on new rules changes, you should try and avoid doing this anyway, as it can make pavements inaccessible for certain people. An added bonus is that this might actually help keep your catalytic converter safe. If your car’s not propped up on one side, you’re not offering easy access to the underside of your vehicle.
5) Lock it up.
Special locks and cages can be fitted to guard against your converter being cut out. This reportedly ups the time it takes for a thief to do their thing from 30 seconds to more like 30 minutes (although hopefully they’d give up and go well before then). When shopping around, be sure to choose something certified by a body like Sold Secure. You should always let your insurer know before modifying your car – especially in this case, as improving your security could get you a discount.
6) Upgrade your alarms.
The best car alarms (ranked as ‘Thatcham category 1′) can detect if your car’s been tilted, so will sound if anyone tries jacking it up to get at the catalytic converter. If your alarm is a category 2, you can upgrade to category 1. This process is called a ‘2 1 upgrade’ or ‘2 > 1 upgrade’. If your car is newer, it will almost definitely have a category 1 alarm already. If it’s older (though not older than 1998) it could be worth upgrading. As with the above, let your insurer know beforehand and see if they’ll knock anything off your premiums.
7) Add a serial number to your converter.
You can get this done at a trusted garage and it should make it harder for thieves to sell your converter on if stolen (or even help you recover it). If you’ve had your converter marked in this way, ask the garage for a sticker you can pop in the window to let everybody know. It could put thieves off before they ever begin messing with your car.
8) Go electric.
Thinking of getting a new car? One extra benefit of getting an electric option is that they don’t have a catalytic converter – so you don’t have to worry about it being stolen. Of course, there are other mishaps you’ll want cover for, so check out our specialist electric car insurance policies.
What happens if my catalytic converter is stolen?
Call the police, get a crime reference number and let your insurer know what’s happened. If you’ve got a car insurance policy from us, the cost of replacing a stolen catalytic converter will be covered. If for some wild reason you got your insurance elsewhere, it should still be covered – as long as you aren’t on a third party only policy . (Over here, we only do fully comprehensive cover.)
You could be looking at a bill in the region of £800, if you aren’t covered. (Which is why we only do fully comprehensive cover.)
Remember that even if you’re covered, you still pay a price for theft. Claims drive up insurance prices – for you and everybody else. So even if you know you’re insured, try and follow as much of the above advice as possible. And as we’ve mentioned above, if you talk to your insurer when you’re taking extra security measures, they may actually knock down your premiums. Even if they don’t, car modifications that make your car safer could save you from claiming – meaning lower premiums in the long run.
Talking of saving money on car insurance… Our pay-by-mile policies could help you save on cover – especially if you’re not a high mileage driver. Why not get a quote and see?