We all know how to prevent car theft. Drivers know to properly secure their car, set their alarm, lock the doors, etc. After driving for a while, these security measures become second nature. 

These days, it’s easier for thieves to target one part of your car and steal that instead; they don’t always want the whole thing. How do you protect the exterior parts of your vehicle? Answering that is a lot tougher than just parking in a well-lit area and locking your doors.

A crime that’s been on the rise is catalytic converter theft. Why are catalytic converters being stolen? Well, seasoned criminals can swiftly remove these in under 60 seconds, with some selling for up to £400 each. Compared to stealing a car, this carries less risk with a good financial reward.

Below, we discuss how to prevent catalytic converter theft, the most targeted cars, and what the motor industry is doing to protect against it.

What is a catalytic converter, anyway?

We should first discuss what a catalytic converter is before we analyse how and why they’re stolen. A car can, mechanically speaking, function without a catalytic converter. However, without them, it can cause significant knock-on effects on pollution levels.

What does a catalytic converter do?

A catalytic converter breaks down the toxins and pollutants from the exhaust gas to make them less toxic. Namely, a catalytic converter breaks down nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, and hydrocarbons into carbon dioxide and water. The reaction results in lower pollution rates, improving environmental and health standards.

The environmental impact of cars is already pronounced, but without converters, it would be worse. For that reason, you cannot drive a car without a catalytic converter, and you can fail an MOT if yours doesn’t function properly.

Which cars have catalytic converters?

Almost all modern petrol and diesel-powered vehicles come with catalytic converters. Catalytic converters are a standard part of a vehicle's exhaust system, and their main purpose is to reduce harmful emissions.

Petrol-powered vehicles, including cars, SUVs, and motorcycles, commonly have catalytic converters. Diesel vehicles, such as vans and some passenger cars, also include catalytic converters to comply with emissions regulations and reduce pollutants in their exhaust gases.

It's important to note that regulations and requirements regarding catalytic converters may change from country to country, and some older or specialised vehicles might not be equipped with them.

Why are catalytic converters being stolen?

Okay, so we’ve cleared what catalytic converters do. However, why do thieves want them?

The reason is simple. It’s not the catalytic converter itself that thieves are interested in, it’s the materials inside them. So, what’s in a catalytic converter, exactly? Catalytic converters are made up of a few metals:

  • Platinum
  • Palladium
  • Rhodium

In some places, these metals are worth more than gold and are more prevalent in older cars which, comparatively, have weaker security.

For older cars, the catalytic converters are stolen within a minute. Each one sells for around £400. Assuming a group of thieves steals 10 in one night, that’s £4000 for 10 minutes of work.

However, it’s not hopeless. There are steps drivers can take to protect themselves. First, we need to discuss what cars are targeted for catalytic converter theft – some models are at much higher risk than others.

What cars are most targeted for catalytic converter theft?

All cars can be targeted for catalytic converter theft, but some are at higher risk than others. Generally, the higher your car’s ground clearance is, the more at risk it is for catalytic converter theft.

According to research by Admiral, Japanese cars are at higher risk, namely:

  • Honda Jazz
  • Lexus RX
  • Toyota Auris
  • Toyota Prius

Outside of this short list, hybrid cars tend to have the most targeted catalytic converters. These types of vehicles have a higher amount of precious metals. Since hybrid cars are newer, too, they are less worn down and corroded, meaning the metals are of higher quality.

If you drive any of these cars, then you should make a special effort to protect your car, and that starts with parking it in the right area.

Where is catalytic converter theft most likely to happen?

Most catalytic converter thefts occur on residential streets and driveways. The crime usually occurs at night, with thieves driving past in a car, stealing the converter, and promptly driving away.

To protect against it, we recommend parking your car in a well-lit area if possible, with any at-home cameras pointed toward it. Thieves are often caught by cameras catching their vehicle’s license plate.  

However, there have been rare cases where thieves have stolen catalytic converters from supermarkets and employee car parks in broad daylight. Since the process is so quick, it carries a relatively low risk for seasoned professionals.

How are catalytic converters stolen?

Although a common practice, the process of stealing a catalytic converter is by no means straightforward. It requires heavy machinery, precise timing, and stealth to be done correctly. So, knowing more about the steps can help you take valuable steps to prevent it from happening.

First, a car is jacked up via a small hand-crank trolley. Then, the catalytic converter is located, before being angle grinded away from any supporting material connected to other parts of the car. Fascinatingly, this entire process can be finished in just under a minute, so knowing how to prevent it is key to keeping yours safe and sound.

How to prevent catalytic converter theft

There are other steps you can make to protect your catalytic converter outside of parking in a garage or well-populated area. Here’s how to stop catalytic converter theft:

Installing anti-theft devices

For example, catalytic converter anti-theft devices are becoming more popular. These use a mesh of metal or ropes to lock over the convertor, preventing anyone from interfering with it. The device can then be removed once the car is running.

However, prices for these anti-theft devices can be a little high. Top-end options can run for hundreds of pounds, but this is significantly cheaper than buying a replacement converter should yours be stolen.

Obscure it from view

For a cheaper option, you could paint your catalytic converter in a bright colour. This makes the serial number more obvious and could put off scrap metal buyers from purchasing it. It may also cause a thief to think twice before stealing it.

Activate car alarms

The best protection, however, is cameras and alarms. We would recommend one or all of the following:

  • A motion-activated dashcam
  • Motion-activated lights in your driveway
  • Tilt-activated car alarms

Stealing a catalytic converter requires a thief to use a jack, which instantly sets off tilt-activated car alarms. When used in conjunction with motion-activated cameras and lights, you’ll not only scare off the thief, but you’ll have evidence of them stealing, too.

The power of knowledge is underrated, too. Getting to know neighbours can help protect your car, and an aware community will always trump an aware individual.

Try to also avoid parking up on a curb. This makes cars much easier to jack up!

What is the industry doing to prevent catalytic converter theft?

There have been several awareness campaigns and developments recently from local police and councils. For example, UK police have partnered with a company called Smart Water Group to forensically mark converters.

However, it is ultimately up to car manufacturers to stagger the rate of converter theft. Toyota – the most common car make to have its converters stolen – has taken steps to protect its customers.

The Japanese carmaker has etched better serial numbers onto its catalytic converters so they can be tracked easier, thus putting off theft.

Developments such as these are essential to stamp this crime out.

Well, where is my catalytic converter?

If you want to get more familiar with your catalytic converter, or even just verify that it hasn’t been stolen in the first place, you can find it sitting somewhere around your car’s exhaust system.

The exact spot will be placed in different areas depending on the car you drive, but they all tend to look the same. They’re similar in appearance to an exhaust silencer, but slightly smaller and found usually around the middle of the exhaust system.

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