Thefts of catalytic converters from cars have ‘gone mad’, says Garda source

Travelling gangs working ‘by rota’ to cash in on rising value of precious metals in devices

Billy Crosbie and Mark O’Donoghue of Auto Exhausts in Crumlin, Dublin 12, with a replacement catalytic converter.  Photograph: Nick Bradshaw for The Irish Times

Billy Crosbie and Mark O’Donoghue of Auto Exhausts in Crumlin, Dublin 12, with a replacement catalytic converter. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw for The Irish Times

 

A small number of travelling gangs are behind a huge surge in the lucrative theft of catalytic converters from cars, gardaí have said.

Car owners in counties Limerick, Clare, Galway, Longford, Offaly and Laois have been warned in recent weeks of a spate of thefts.

Thieves are stripping cars of the devices – part of the exhaust system which makes pollutants less harmful – to cash in on the rising value of precious metals contained in them, including rhodium, palladium and platinum. While prices fluctuate, some of the metals can trade at higher values than gold.

Many makes of cars are targeted, but some – including early models of Toyota Prius and Yaris as well as Mercedes Sprinter Vans – are more favoured for their higher-quality metals.

Accurate figures are difficult to obtain because of Garda classifications – and anecdotal evidence suggests many victims do not claim thefts on their insurance policy – but a Garda source who examined recent records said catalytic converter thefts “have gone mad”.

“Last year, there was an average of 14 or 15 a month. In July alone this year there have been more than 50. There have been 28 in the first two weeks of August.”

Difficult to retrieve

The figures are “a minimum” because some thefts will be recorded in a way that makes them difficult to retrieve on the Garda system.

“They appear to be predominantly in Dublin, with some in Galway and elsewhere,” the source said.

It is believed the thieves operate on a “rota” basis, focusing on different parts of the country, or neighbourhoods within cities at different times.

Cars are usually jacked up, while vans and SUVs are high enough off the ground to allow easy access to the underside, and mechanical cutters or wire saws are used to cut out the devices.

Because it is over in minutes, “not too many are caught red-handed”, said the Garda source.

A lad came in who had five Mercedes Sprinters in his business yard. Thieves took all five

In 2016, a man pleaded guilty in Limerick to the theft of 21 catalytic converters valued at the time at nearly €20,000, in what the judge described as a “cold, calculated and cunning enterprise”.

Mark O’Donoghue, a mechanic with Auto Exhausts in Crumlin, Dublin 12, said he gets cars in every week where a catalytic converter has been stolen.

“I would have weeks where I have one every day,” he said.

“A lad came in who had five Mercedes Sprinters in his business yard. Thieves took all five. He got them replaced on his insurance, but when he got the vans back the same thing happened again the next week.

“The insurance didn’t cover him the second time.”

Repair works

Mr O’Donoghue said repair works on the Mercedes cost up to €4,000 a vehicle.

A mechanic in Donnybrook said the thieves will sometimes damage or remove other components, which adds to the cost of repairs. A recent customer with a Kia Sportage was billed €2,000.

“In the last year it has been happening an awful lot,” the mechanic said.

Damien O’Neill, of Allianz, one of Ireland’s leading insurers, said repair costs can vary from €800 to more than €3,000. Allianz did not have a significant number of claims for stolen catalytic converters.

However, anecdotally, victims say it is cheaper to pay for the repairs themselves than face hiked premiums.

A number of other leading insurers declined to respond to questions.

Toyota Ireland said it was a “worldwide industry issue” affecting all car brands, but is “particularly affecting older Prius, due to its high-quality catalytic converters”.

Design changes in more recent models have made it “not possible” to steal the devices, a spokeswoman said.

Mercedes said there was “a slight increase in the number of thefts of catalytic converters” from its models two years ago, but they have since “dissipated to a negligible level”, according to its dealer network in Ireland.

Kia said it was it was unaware of “any reports of such thefts from our dealer network”.