Criminals want your catalytic converter. Here’s how to stop them.

Image courtesy of The Irish Times

There’s always someone out there who is ready and willing to swipe your hard-earned stuff — even if it’s bolted to the underside of your car.

In case you hadn’t heard, the latest craze for criminals across the UK is the theft of catalytic converters. By March 2021, thefts were up by 57% compared to the previous year, and cat converter thefts now make up one-third of insurance theft claims from vehicles. There’s no sign of the trend slowing down. Losing your cat converter is no trivial matter: with replacement costs averaging £1500, insurers may simply write off the vehicle.

What’s even more alarming is the brazenness of the thefts, with cars being targeted in daylight and in public places.

Note: this was posted in 2019, so this shameless tea-leafing of cats has been going on some time.

What’s behind all the increases in thefts? Probably four things.

  • First and foremost, the price of the precious metals in catalytic converters has rocketed. Criminals are seizing the moment. They know more about the price of metals like palladium and rhodium than a commodity trader, and which cars will yield the best pay-off.
  • Secondly, the increase in hybrid car sales means more high-value catalyic converters are available. That’s because hybrids use less fuel, reducing corrosion in the precious metals, which can then be sold for a higher price.
  • Thirdly, as SUVs become more popular, catalytic converters are easier for criminals to access. Although any car can be targeted, the greater ground clearance in an SUV makes them easier to get underneath.
  • Lastly, the techniques and markets for this kind of theft have taken time to mature and spread across the country.

So, what can you do about it? In this two-part article, we’ve pulled together a number of tips and recommendations, ranging from the obvious-but-worth-mentioning to specialist solutions.

Park where there’s streetlighting

Let’s start with the basics. Parking in a well-lit area will reduce the chances of your car being targeted. Yes, we know we’ve only just said that cat converter thieves will strike in broad daylight. But not all criminals are willing to take those risks, and streetlighting will at least deter the more timid. This is a numbers game, and anything that changes the odds in your favour is worth a go.

Park to make your car’s underside difficult to access

In order to remove the cat converter, criminals have to jack up the vehicle and slide underneath. Making this process more difficult will make some thieves move on in search of an easier target. With this in mind, if possible and safe, try to park close to a wall or alongside another vehicle.

Admittedly, in many circumstances, this just isn’t feasible — parking next to a wall is usually going to block pedestrian access. However, take the option if it arises.

Make your driveway more secure

If you have a driveway, you’re already at an advantage compared to parking on the road. However, you’re by no means out of the woods, as many cat converters do disappear from vehicles right outside their owner’s homes. There are several things you can do to reduce the risk:

  • Install a motion-triggered security light that’s activated when someone steps on your driveway. This is a low-tech solution, but it’s immediately obvious to criminals. You’ll want it set up so that it doesn’t get triggered by passersby on the pavement. We’re not sure if these still get triggered by passing cats, but if so, be prepared for a few false positives.
  • Install CCTV cameras. These may be useful after the fact, in identifying criminals, but what you really want is to deter thieves in the first place. For that reason, a weatherproof highly visible camera is probably preferable. If you live in Texas, you can probably buy one with a gun attached.
  • According to the Metropolitan Police, other simple measures can make your property a less appealing environment to criminals. They recommend keeping street-facing boundary fences or hedges under one metre, so there are fewer places to hide. They also suggest gravel on the driveway. Of course, you may not want your home’s exterior to revolve around the possibility of someone targeting your vehicle, but it’s at least worth thinking about.

Report suspicious activity

With cat converter thefts, thieves will often earmark a likely vehicle some time in advance, then wait for the right moment to strike. And that means that there’s a chance of spotting criminals checking out potential targets, and alerting the police that something might be afoot. Taking a few minutes to report suspicious activity could save yourself or your neighbours some grief. You can report your concerns by ringing 101.

No one wants to become a paranoid curtain-twitcher, but there’s nothing wrong with a bit of extra vigilance. And please don’t assume that a neighbour has already reported the same concern: chances are they’re also waiting for someone else to do it.

OK, what else have you got?

Although all these measures will reduce your chances of falling victim to catalytic converter theft, we know they don’t cover all the bases. What if you don’t have a driveway, or can’t park in a well-lit place? In the second part of this article, we’ll look at some more specific measures that involve the vehicle itself. See you soon.

The Welsh VW Specialist blog covers a wide range of automotive topics, from the contentious to the light-hearted. We are an independent garage specialising (as the name suggests!) in the VW group marques, including Audi, Volkswagen, Skoda and SEAT. Welsh VW Specialists provide services, repairs and MOTs, delivering a main dealer level of care at affordable prices. To book your vehicle in, or for any enquiries, get in touch.