The high price of precious metals is leading to a rise in thefts of catalytic converters from a wide range of motor vehicles.
The problem has become so serious that the British Metals Recycling Association (BMRA) has linked up with the Association of Chief Police Officers of England, Wales and Northern Ireland (ACPO) to help tackle the issue.
The average catalytic converter contains one to two grams of three precious metals - platinum, palladium, and rhodium - and the international prices of these metals have risen by 67%, 200%, and 600% respectively over the past two years.
Police were alerted to the trend in the UK last year when four men were arrested in Worcestershire in connection with the theft of 40 catalytic converters in the Wyre Forest area.
The converters are thought to be removed from parked vehicles with a cordless reciprocating saws pointed with a stainless steel blade.
A competent thief can, say experts, remove a converter in just six minutes and sell it for up to £150.
It is believed that stolen converters are shipped to recycling companies in Poland, Canada, China and Latvia, where they undergo a carbochlorination process that extracts their precious metals.
“We’re also seeing engines, gearboxes, axles and wheels stolen,” said Det Sgt Andy Round, who heads TruckPol, a national intelligence unit that forms part of the wider ACPO Vehicle Crime Intelligence Service.
“The penny has dropped with the thieves that there is a market for them. The demand in the Far East for these metals is huge. Lorries were the first target – I guess because they are so much bigger - but they also see smaller vehicles as just as easy targets.”
In response, the BMRA has launched a stolen metals bulletin, which alerts all members by email of known thefts within 24 hours of being notified.
It also produces information for members to help them identify stolen materials.