Catalytic converter thefts double as metal prices rise

Catalytic Converter Vans and 4x4s are particularly susceptible

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Thefts of catalytic converters from motor vehicles have more than doubled over the past three years, a BBC investigation has found.

Almost 25,000 thefts were reported to police forces across the UK between 2010 and the first half of this year.

Thieves are ripping out the devices because they contain precious metals such as platinum and palladium.

Motorists can be left with repair bills of thousands of pounds.

Catalytic converters reduce poisonous gases from the vehicle's exhaust system.

Information obtained from 40 UK police forces revealed thefts UK had more than doubled between 2010 and 2012.

Some parts of the country saw a significant rise - in Bedfordshire and South Yorkshire thefts increased more than tenfold.

They more than tripled across Cheshire, Greater Manchester and Leicestershire during the same period.

Most catalytic converter thefts
Forces with largest number of thefts

James Goodson, a senior analyst with British Transport Police, says rises in the global price of platinum have fuelled the illegal trade.

He said: "We've seen that in the past metals such as platinum and palladium are affected by the changes in the market. That would be reflected at scrap metal dealer level by the dealer offering a better price for that material.

HOW CAN YOU PREVENT THEFT?

  • Catalytic converters can be uniquely marked in acid with a serial number
  • Motorists are advised to keep their cars in garages or park in well-lit areas
  • Most converters are bolted on - but they can be welded, which makes them harder to remove
  • Fleet owners are advised to obstruct access to high vehicles by parking cars with lower ground clearance round them
  • CCTV cameras should also be installed and warning notices posted up nearby

Source: AA and Humberside Police

"We've identified that when there are increases in the price of these metals and materials then we often see an increase in levels of theft reported to us."

Police say vans and 4x4 vehicles, which are easy to crawl underneath, are particularly at risk.

Det Supt Alison Evans, national co-ordinator for the National Metal Theft Task Force, said: "We have people involved in organised crime [here], because we have had depots and fleets being hit, and that suggests a level of pre-planning that isn't involved in your spontaneous type of offending.

"We know from our intelligence from the arrests we've made that most of the people we have arrested are UK residents. There is an element of Eastern European involvement but a lot of these people are people who trawl around the country in order to attack particular locations that have been identified as vulnerable."

Forces with largest increase in converter thefts
2010 2011 2012
Bedfordshire 31 138 340
South Yorkshire 15 70 177
Dyfed-Powys 2 28 55

Det Supt Evans went on: "Catalytic converters can be processed through some scrap metal dealers, but they need to have a particular piece of equipment to be able to do that.

"But one of the emerging problems that we have identified is the direct export - them being exported in containers to emerging economies where they are either reused or then they can be broken down there."

Legislation that came into force on 1 October banned cash payments for scrap metal with the aim of making it easier to trace people selling stolen metal.

Catalytic converters Catalytic converters contain valuable metals, which are often exported to mainland Europe

Jonathan Elvidge's fleet of delivery vans was targeted by thieves just before Christmas 2011.

Fifteen vehicles were stripped of their catalytic converters when his depot was raided one night.

Mr Elvidge said: "We're all about gifts and gadgets, we're all about Christmas, so it was a massively busy time for us."

He said the thief managed to saw through and remove all 15 catalytic converters within 45 minutes.

Mr Elvidge said: "The cost to the business was significant. I mean keeping the vehicles on hire and bringing in new vehicles would have cost us £15,000 to £20,000.

"But the real cost is the lost revenue in the stores, which we estimate will be in excess of £100,000. So the real risk to the business, was going out of business.

"We employ 600 people at that time of the year and all those jobs could have been at risk because we couldn't get the stock out to the stores."

Rise in converter thefts

2010 3,957

2011 7,236

2012 8,947

2013* 4,485

Total thefts** 24,618

*Figures for 2013 are from 1 Jan 2013 - 30 June 2013
** Total from 46 police forces

Catalytic converters reduce harmful emissions of hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides into the atmosphere.

They contain a ceramic honeycombed core coated with metals such as platinum, palladium and rhodium.

The metals act as catalysts and convert the harmful gases into water vapour and less harmful emissions.

A Department of Transport spokesman said it was not illegal to drive without a catalytic converter but you could be stopped by the police and prosecuted for breaking the law on harmful emissions. Most vehicles will also fail an MoT test without a catalytic converter.

Catalytic converter thefts by force

Force 2010 2011 2012 2013 Total

Avon & Somerset

39

242

83

364

Bedfordshire

31

138

340

212

721

Cambridgeshire

107

224

228

213

772

Cheshire

67

164

208

72

511

Cleveland

14

12

25

8

59

Cumbria

11

32

33

18

94

Derbyshire

43

67

147

44

301

Devon & Cornwall

68

113

207

49

437

Dorset

41

40

108

12

201

Durham

191

159

68

418

Dyfed-Powys

2

28

55

41

126

Gloucestershire

53

271

178

122

624

Greater Manchester

79

161

285

104

629

Gwent

14

21

38

24

97

Hertfordshire

244

347

402

204

1,197

Humberside

14

52

113

26

205

Kent

434

347

239

248

1,268

Lancashire

27

59

40

23

149

Leicestershire

195

260

633

174

1,262

Lincolnshire

24

69

175

62

330

Merseyside

20

40

142

42

244

Metropolitan Police

664

1,056

1,181

616

3,517

Norfolk

270

178

192

129

769

Northamptonshire

91

166

266

138

661

Northumbria

47

135

59

21

262

North Wales

16

48

34

26

124

Nottinghamshire

70

87

343

86

586

South Wales

23

55

88

28

194

South Yorkshire

15

70

177

104

366

Staffordshire

83

143

240

89

555

Suffolk

152

157

234

202

745

Surrey

345

436

196

31

1,008

Sussex

64

158

118

52

392

Thames Valley

173

626

588

425

1,812

Warwickshire

48

46

81

43

218

West Mercia

182

495

495

342

1,514

West Midlands

141

272

192

160

765

West Yorkshire

50

366

386

123

925

Police Service of Northern Ireland

2

8

5

2

17

Police Service of Scotland: Aberdeen - Legacy Grampian Police

2

3

0

3

8

Police Service of Scotland: Dumfries – Legacy Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary

1

4

5

Police Service of Scotland: Dundee – Legacy Tayside Police

4

4

10

1

19

Police Service of Scotland: Edinburgh – Legacy Lothian and Borders Police

2

3

0

3

1

Police Service of Scotland: Glasgow - Strathclyde Police

21

45

60

7

133

Police Service of Scotland: Glenrothes – Legacy Fife Constabulary

2

3

0

1

6

Police Service of Scotland: Stirling - Legacy Central Police

2

1

4

0

7

Grand Total

3,957

7,236

8,947

4,485

24,618

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