Q&A: How to protect your car from catalytic converter theft

Hybrid vehicles are particularly at risk from crime that has surged in recent years

Catalytic converters contain valuable metals. File photograph: Reuter Raymond/Sygma via Getty Images

Catalytic converters contain valuable metals. File photograph: Reuter Raymond/Sygma via Getty Images

 

What is this about recent catalytic converter thefts?

A thief can take the catalytic converter from your car in minutes, while you are parked at a shopping centre, in your driveway or on a public street. Valuable, precious metals including rhodium, platinum and palladium are contained in the catalytic converter, which is basically a box attached to the underside of your car.

What does the catalytic converter do?

It takes in exhaust fumes and reduces harmful emissions from the engine. Rhodium, for example, can reduce levels of nitrogen oxide from a car’s exhaust fumes, making it useful to car manufacturers around the world who are facing more onerous car emissions rules. Rhodium is now worth about 12 times the price of gold, according to the New York Times.

So who is at risk of the thefts?

Most owners of modern vehicles. Hybrid vehicles have two power sources, so the catalytic converter is used less in a hybrid vehicle and the precious metals in the converter are less likely to corrode, meaning owners of hybrid vehicles are particularly at risk.

Is this a big problem?

In 2017 just 79 catalytic converter thefts were recorded, increasing to 96 thefts in 2018. However, by 2019 989 such thefts were recorded and 2020 looks set to have seen 1,300 catalytic converter thefts by year end. Most thefts were recorded in Dublin.

So what happens my catalytic converter once the thieves get it?

It can go anywhere there is a market for precious metals. Recent discoveries by the Garda have indicated that precious metals in the converters are even reduced to powder, to ease the shipment and sales process. China, which has a big problem with air pollution, is a big consumer of metals such as rhodium, 80 per cent of which is bought by the motor industry globally. So essentially the thieves are recycling.

How can I protect myself and my car?

The best thing is to keep your car under lock and key in a garage. If you don’t have a lock-up, then parking in a well-lit area is always good advice. Thieves will slide under a car to steal the converters, so parking up against a fence, wall or kerb can make it more difficult for them. Avoid parking with two wheels on the footpath as this may make it easier for thieves to slide under the car. Driveway alarms and lighting sensors may help protect converters as well.

Physical adaptions to the car may also help. Toyota has developed a lock for its catalytic converters, and there are a number of brands on the market that offer physical protection, such as CatClamp, which is a patented cable cage that surrounds the catalytic converter with aircraft-grade wire rope that is very difficult to cut, even with power tools.

If your catalytic converter is bolted on you can ask for your local garage to weld the bolts to make it more difficult to remove. Alternatively, an approved alarm and tilt sensor will activate the alarm should any thief try to jack the vehicle up to steal the converter.

Always call the Garda if you see someone acting suspiciously under a vehicle. Obtain as much information as possible in such a scenario, including any vehicle registrations.

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