Hybrid car manufacturers such as Toyota and Honda are taking action to secure vehicles in response to police recording a sharp increase in catalytic converter theft.
Believed by many to be an issue of the 1980s, organised gangs are back on the streets targeting catalytic converters to extract the precious metals inside worth thousands of pounds.
Although there are 10,000 types of converter, the cars most often targeted are hybrid vehicles.
Since hybrids have two power sources – electric and petrol or diesel – the catalytic converter is used less frequently to process pollutants.
The metals are less likely to corrode, increasing their worth and therefore more attractive to thieves.
The Metropolitan Police saw a 73% increase in ‘cat theft’ with 2,894 reported stolen in the first half of the year, compared with 1,674 for the whole of 2018.
In Cambridgeshire, there were 61 reported thefts between June 20 and August 14, with 44 of these from Honda Jazz, Toyota Prius or Toyota Auris cars. Police forces in West Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire have also issued warnings to drivers.
Toyota told Fleet News the rapid increase in thefts has affected its supply of catalytic converters to replace those that have been stolen, although it is taking “urgent action” to address this with its suppliers.
The catalytic converter is part of the car’s emissions control system and its value for recycling is the main attraction to thieves because they contain precious metals such as rhodium, platinum and palladium.
Metals merchant FJ Church and Sons told Fleet News that, at the time of going to press, platinum was worth £722/oz, palladium £1,380/oz and rhodium £4,190/oz.
On average, there are between three-seven grams of platinum in a standard catalytic converter, but the amount varies based on manufacturer and model.
A spokesman for FJ Church said: “Unfortunately, thieves can still convert stolen metal into cash far easier than should be the case, given the lack of enforcement of the Scrap Metal Dealers Act and the still active cash payments by some operators.”
A spokesman for Toyota said the brand’s priority is to do all it can to support customers who have been victims of crime.
He said: “This sudden rise in cat theft is one we could not have envisaged set against many years of low incidents.
“In some cases, thefts have been brazen – in broad daylight. We have posted guidance online for customers and written to all of our dealers to direct customers to us for more information. We have has also written directly to Prius customers where we have contact details on file.”
Toyota is offering a Catloc which can deter some thieves, although it will not combat gangs using high-powered cutting tools.
The Catloc costs between £200 and £250 (dependent on model), including fitting by a Toyota retailer. It comes with a three-year warranty.
The manufacturer has reduced the price of replacement catalytic converters and Catlocs to a level where Toyota GB does not make any profit from supplying them to customers.
The spokesman added: “We are taking further action to ensure the price of fitting a replacement catalytic converter at a Toyota approved service centre is minimised, as well as exploring other technical possibilities which may help such as tilt sensors. Finally, we have been working with our catalyst suppliers and they have now increased their daily production shifts from one to three, which we hope will allow us to tackle this issue and get customers back on the road more quickly.
“Our priority is our customers and we are working hard to try to support them against the background of these distressing crimes.”
Meanwhile, Honda said versions of the Accord and the Jazz from 2008 onwards have been designed to house the catalytic converter where it cannot be reached by thieves with later versions having the catalytic converter bolted direct to the engine inside the engine bay.
A spokesman said: “Honda UK recommends owners of these cars follow the advice given by the police, which is to generally protect their vehicle from theft.
“This advice includes parking inside a locked garage, or near walls or other vehicles to make it harder to get underneath the car, adding security lighting, CCTV or alarms which may deter thieves.
“The police also advise installing a Thatcham-approved alarm; one that activates if your vehicle is lifted or tilted is particularly effective.”