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Catalytic converter theft is once again rising in the UK, but what is a catalytic converter and why are they being stolen?

What is a catalytic converter?

A catalytic converter is a section of the exhaust system located underneath your car. They are fitted to the majority of petrol cars that have been manufactured since 1992, and most diesel cars produced after 2001.

The job of the catalytic converter is to reduce the amount of harmful emissions coming out of the tailpipe. When the engine produces waste gases, they flow through the exhaust system and into the catalytic converter. A chemical reaction then takes place, 'cleaning' the gases before they exit the system into the air

Why are they being stolen?

To produce the required chemical reaction, catalytic converters contain precious metals such as Platinum, Rhodium and Palladium. Since the credit crunch began in 2008, prices of these materials on the scrap metal market has sky-rocketed, and thieves know it. Once thieves steal a catalytic converter, they can sell them to scrap metal merchants. They are then either stripped down and the precious metals are removed, or they are reused on other cars. There is an increasing trend to export the stolen converters to mainland Europe, where again they are either stripped down or reused.

Rising number of thefts

Theft of catalytic converters is on the rise in the UK. In November last year, it was reported that cases of catalytic converter theft doubled in the last 3 years to a worrying 25,000 in total. Some counties recorded bigger increases - Bedfordshire police saw their figure rise tenfold.

How are they being stolen?

Catalytic converters are not well-protected items. They are exposed underneath your car, and some can be removed with just a few cuts of a battery-powered handheld circular saw. They are unmarked and difficult to trace - making convicting the offenders particularly difficult. 

Taller vehicles such as 4x4s, pick-ups and vans are especially vulnerable as they typically have a higher ground clearance, making the exhaust system - and catalytic converter - more accessible to thieves.

Taller vehicles such as Vans and 4x4s are more susceptible to catalytic converter theft

How does it affect me?

If the catalytic converter fitted to your vehicle is stolen, it will need to be replaced as it will most likely lead to the vehicle failing an MOT emissions test. The cost of replacing it could be more than £1,000, depending on the amount of damage caused and the type of vehicle you own. Most thefts occur at night when your vehicle is parked on your driveway or on the street.

Fleet operators are being targeted by organised gangs of thieves, and the cost to those business could be even more substantial.

Is it illegal not to have a catalytic converter?

Currently it is not illegal to drive a vehicle without a catalytic converter, but if your vehicle is emitting harmful amounts of carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide, you can be stopped and prosecuted by the police for breaking emissions laws.

How can I prevent catalytic converter theft?

Fortunately there are plenty of different ways of preventing catalytic converter theft.

Because catalytic converters are usually bolted on, it may be advisable to have them welded on as it makes them considerably more difficult to remove.

Do not park your vehicle half-on a kerb, as it lifts up one side of the vehicle making access to the underside much easier for thieves.

There are a variety of products on the market that can assist in the prevention of catalytic converter theft. In 2012 Ford advocated the CATLOC which they recommend be fitted to vehicles such as the Transit and Ranger. Other products include the Cat Clamp (does exactly what it says on the tin) and Fuel Shield, which is more of an alarm system for you catalytic converter - producing a 110db siren if any part of the exhaust is tampered with.

You can order catalytic converter marking kits for around £10, which make it much easier for stolen ones to be traced and the offenders prosecuted.

Simple things like parking your car in a garage whenever possible and parking in well-lit or busy areas are also useful deterrents.

What is the government doing about it?

In October 2013, a new law was introduced for scrap dealers which banned cash payments for scrap metal, in an attempt to make all transactions - and those involved - easier to track. Scrap dealers and motor salvage companies must also apply for a licence to trade in the scrap metal market, and keep a detailed record - including names and addresses - of those they buy from.