Thefts of catalytic converters have hit an all-time high in the past 12 months, according to a major UK insurance company. Admiral’s analysis of its own claims data found there was a 44 percent increase in claims for catalytic converter thefts in 2020 compared with 2019, despite a dip - despite a dip during the first coronavirus lockdown last spring.

The research also showed thefts were up in the early part of 2021, with the company experiencing a 57 percent increase in claims for catalytic converter thefts in March compared with the same month last year.

Catalytic converters form part of a car’s exhaust system, and contain valuable metals including palladium, which is currently worth more than gold. Admiral says catalytic converters are “relatively simple” to steal because the exhaust is exposed beneath most cars.

Underside of a car shows catalytic converter exhaust pipe

Thieves will often either unbolt the catalytic converter and make their escape, or simply cut it out of the vehicle’s underside. The chosen method can impact the cost of a repair, and the insurance company says some older vehicles may be so badly damaged that a repair becomes uneconomical, leading the insurer to write them off.

According to Admiral, cars including the Honda Jazz, Toyota Prius, Toyota Auris and Lexus RX are targeted most often, with older models in particular being singled out. The company claims hybrid cars are targeted because their catalytic converters contain a higher concentration of precious metals and are generally less corroded.

Car underside showing exhaust system catalytic converter

“Our data shows that the number of catalytic converter thefts taking place is dramatically rising again after a lull at the start of the pandemic,” said Admiral’s head of claims, Lorna Connelly. “Unfortunately, it doesn’t take long to steal a catalytic converter and if thieves can get underneath the car, they can simply use cutters to remove them.

“The theft of catalytic converters is often carried out by opportunist thieves who may be working their way around different neighbourhoods. This isn’t always the case, however, and there is evidence to suggest that criminal gangs are involved in these types of thefts. The precious metals used within catalytic converters are sold at a profit, and that profit could be used to fund even bigger crimes.

“Regardless of which car you own, you should be vigilant and do everything you can to make sure it’s parked in a safe and secure place. If you don’t have a private driveway or garage, parking somewhere well lit, and not parking with two wheels on the pavement will make it harder for thieves to access the catalytic converter.

“Some thieves are savvy and will wear hi-vis vests to throw potential witnesses off the scent
and unassuming passers-by could quite easily assume official work is being carried out. If
you do see someone underneath a car in your street, make a note of any useful information
and report it to the police or Crimestoppers.”