Groups of opportunistic thieves and organised criminals are targeting catalytic converters from cars, 4x4s and, in particular, LCVs.
BVRLA members have reported thefts in Hounslow, Croydon, Forest Hill and Slough, Solihull, Reading and Cambridgeshire.
Cats are mainly being stolen for their precious metal value – if properly recycled they can be worth between £50 and £100. Catalytic converters contain varying amounts of platinum group metals, such as palladium and rhodium, to increase the burn and split NO2 into its component molecules of nitrogen and oxygen.
A new catalytic converter can cost more than £2,000 to retrofit and, even if covered by insurance, the excess on most policies makes it a heavy loss.
These thieves are not sophisticated. Any vehicle with ground clearance can have the catalytic converter ripped off within seconds, according to the police, as they typically use plumber’s pipe cutters or a cordless saw to slice through the exhaust and supports.
Truckpol puts vehicle component crime, which includes cats, as the second biggest problem after diesel theft. So far the most commonly hit vans seem to be Mercedes- Benz Sprinters and Ford Transits, perhaps simply because of their prevalence, but Nigel Carter, sales and marketing manager at Kent-based CatClamp, said they most frequently receive enquiries from people who have lost cats from many vehicles, including Fiat Ducatos, Ford Rangers and motor homes.
The advice from the industry is still fairly generic: keep it garaged or parked in well lit, camera-monitored areas, being among the most obvious.
However, more permanent deterrents are available. Several companies offer indelible marking which can render the parts less attractive to thieves. Retainagroup, which currently marks all Iveco product for the manufacturer, offers a special label which when washed with solution will etch the contact details into the metal beneath.
The label is almost impossible to remove as, when a corner is tugged at, it will fragment. Retainagroup works closely with police and keeps a security register of all the parts and vehicles it has marked. It costs £9.95 for the vehicle to be marked and registered with Retainagroup.
Retainagroup said that there is evidence that thieves have avoided those vans which were marked in recent incidents.
Datadot and Datatag are two more companies who offer vehicle marking.
Retainagroup also works in partnership with CatClamp. The CatClamp product relies on two tamper-proof bolted brackets either side of your catalytic converter through which aircraft-grade steel cable is wound over the converter and through the chassis into a simple ‘cat’s cradle’.
The cage can be fitted – or removed – by the owner or a mechanic, but it takes about 30 minutes to do – time which CatClamp says thieves are not willing to spend.
The company says that no product is 100% effective against determined thieves but such products require high-performance tools and significant time to disable.
The CatClamp costs £199, with a money back guarantee if it doesn’t deter thieves. Rival product Armacat offers similar preventive caging, and some body shops will weld a steel plate over the cat.
There is a question about such products invalidating warranty, although CatClamp says there is no conflict. Manufacturers are reluctant to endorse third-party products which they cannot guarantee will protect the vehicle.
Counting the cost
Rabbits Vehicle Hire in Reading has had four catalytic converters stolen from vans in the past 12 months.
“One was outside a residential property and two of them on industrial premises covered by CCTV,” said Steve Dore, director.
He said the thieves seemed to break the passenger side window in his Mercedes-Benz Sprinters, pop the bonnet and release something in the engine which gave them better access to the cat beneath. “They were very fast,” he said.
Dore lost full exhaust systems which cost £2,000 to replace. “Even through the
insurance, you face a hefty excess, another claim on your record and downtime,” he says.
“Our local Mercedes dealer suggested we could use a chain system, like a bike lock,
but we are not sure whether it would stop a determined thief.
“There is no easy answer.”