The catalytic converter has been mandatory on new petrol cars manufactured in the UK since 1993, almost all new and used cars on the road will have one fitted as standard. So, what does it do, why is it increasingly becoming a target for thieves, and what can you do to prevent it?
Catalytic converters reduce the emissions produced by your car’s engine before they are released into the environment through the exhaust pipe, keeping the levels within European safety standards.
Engine gases are passed through a honeycombed ceramic block coated in precious metals, including rhodium, platinum, and palladium.
The proximity of the engine heats the catalytic converter, causing a chemical reaction between the metallic elements and the harmful gases. These are broken down into carbon dioxide and water vapour, and then expelled.
The precious metals that form part of the process are one of the reasons catalytic converters are attractive to thieves. A spike in the market value of rhodium and palladium has made the small amounts found in converters a tempting target.
The catalytic converter is vulnerable to theft as it’s fitted outside of the vehicle and relatively simple to remove. Thefts have even been observed in broad daylight, as a skilled thief can remove a catalytic converter within minutes.
As the catalytic converter lives underneath your car you might not even notice it’s disappearance, the vehicle will also almost certainly drive without a noticeable difference in performance.
But the car’s emissions will increase to a level that is likely to be beyond the legal limit, putting you on the wrong side of the law and possibly at risk of prosecution.
Even if you discover the theft early, repairs and replacements can still set you back financially, so a good insurance policy is necessary.
Cars with a high ground clearance like SUVs and 4x4s, often fall victim to attack because it’s easier to remove the catalytic converter.
Hybrid vehicles have also become a desirable target, because in a hybrid the converter is used less often and in better condition, meaning more precious metals.
West Yorkshire Police advise taking precautions when parking, especially if your vehicle falls into one of the vulnerable categories.
If it is not possible to park in a locked garage, aim for a busy well-lit area and park between other cars if possible or with the bonnet facing a wall.
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Try to have the side of the vehicle with the exhaust close to a kerb or another obstruction, these precautions can make the catalytic converter more difficult to access.
The motor trade has produced several solutions to safeguard your catalytic converter. Garages can weld or fit anti tamper bolts that hold the converter.
Another effective method of protection is a cage or grille which can be fixed to the underside of the car to protect the converter.
Try marking the converter by etching it, using security marker fluid may also make it easier to trace if sold as a spare part.
Ask your local dealer or garage for advice, and always check that modifying your vehicle will not affect your insurance policy.