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 habitual.

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 significantly 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 for pollution levels.

A catalytic converter breaks down the toxins and pollutants from 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 from 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.

Why are catalytic converters being stolen?

Okay, so we’ve cleared what catalytic converters do. However, why do thieves want them? Are they secretly conspiring to make our towns and cities more polluted?

Well, no. The reason is pretty simple. Catalytic converters are made up of a few metals:

  • Platinum
  • Palladium
  • Rhodium

Currently, there is a shortage of these metals in the market, and they are sold for an inflated price. For now, 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. According to research by Admiral, Japanese cars are at higher risk, namely:

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

Outside of this shortlist, hybrid cars tend to have the most targeted catalytic converters. These types of vehicles have a higher concentration 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?

The majority of 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 towards it. Thieves are often caught by cameras catching their vehicle’s licence plate.  

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

Oh, and avoiding parking up on a curb. This makes it much easier to jack up!

What is the industry doing to prevent catalytic converter theft?

We have covered how you can protect yourself from this crime, but what is the wider industry and policing doing to help?

There have been a number of 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 disincentivising theft.

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

Choose a car from knowledgable, experienced dealers today

Any form of car theft is scary, but you can help protect yourself. The first step to good protection is buying a used car from a reliable, trustworthy dealer.

We have thousands of used cars from across the UK, meaning you can make the right first step in purchasing a reliable, safe car.

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