As I push the angle grinder into the car’s exhaust, a sizzling steel spark flies. The disc blade slices through metal like a knife through butter. I slip away and then, with a strong tug, the catalytic converter comes off. It takes only 56 seconds.
I’m stomping away beneath a Toyota Yaris to learn just how easy it is to steal a catalytic converter—a crime that has more than doubled in the past year.
Catalytic converters are part of vehicle exhaust and are designed to filter harmful emissions. Thieves target them because they contain precious metals.
Man of Steel: Toby Walne discovers how easy it is to remove the catalytic converter from a Toyota Yaris
Of course, I’m not really stealing one. I am at Carmageddon Salvage near Sawbridgeworth in Hertfordshire, cutting a car destined for scrap.
However, were it a real-life theft, the car owner would not have had enough time to notice the sound of a power tool – though very noisy – and set out to check on his vehicle before the thieves could exit the catalytic converter. Were. .
Carmageddon Salvage boss Carl Stevens says such theft is ‘getting out of hand’.
They believe that this should be dealt with through strict regulation of scrap traders so that they do not trade in stolen goods. Stevens says: ‘We get many calls a day from people who are scraping their cars because they can’t afford the converter replacement bill £1,000 or more.
‘If a vehicle is worth less than the cost of replacement, it’s often not worth keeping it on the road.
‘It’s heartbreaking when you see a young motorist who is tormented by thieves to buy the first car his dream is destroyed by.’
Insurers Write Off Cars Because Theft 10,000
There are more than 10,000 thefts going on across the country every year – on average, 30 converters hack the exhaust system every day. Many insurance companies now treat cars after converter theft as write-offs because the cost of replacing it, including repairs and labor, is so high.
Victims also suffer a second blow: The cost of their car insurance often goes up when it comes to renewing it.
Cars commonly targeted include the Honda Jazz and Toyota Prius. Their converters contain particularly strong concentrations of precious metals, which are sought after by thieves.
Their exhaust systems are also the cleanest because they are hybrids, which makes them more desirable.
Cars with high ground clearance, such as SUVs, are also commonly targeted because their exhaust is easier to reach.
Why is there so much demand for converters?
Converters are full of expensive rare metals, the price of which has risen in recent months.
As new supplies have declined as mines were forced to close during the pandemic, demand for parts already in circulation has soared.
The converter removes toxic gases from a car engine – such as carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide – and turns them into less harmful gases, such as carbon dioxide and nitrogen.
This process requires expensive rare metals such as platinum, rhodium and palladium. Each catalytic converter contains the equivalent of a quarter ounce of precious metals.
Rhodium costs around £14,040 an ounce – a price that has quadrupled in the past three years.
Palladium sells for around £1,980 an ounce – double the price three years ago.
In comparison, gold sells for around £1,310 an ounce.
How does a gang of thieves work
Criminals often move around in gangs of three or four. Stevens says: ‘One might be the driver, while the other uses the trolley jack to get the car off the ground.
‘A third person will use a battery-operated angle grinder or saw to cut the converter while the last member of the gang stands guard.
‘This last one is often something dangerous, like a baseball bat, to make sure no one dares to interfere.’
Stevens says that gangs prefer to operate under cover of darkness and that’s why most thefts happen at night when the car is parked outside the owner’s house.
However, due to the high prices of catalytic converters, thieves are becoming increasingly brazen.
They are now stealing from public car parks in broad daylight and sometimes targeting abandoned vehicles for a few minutes while the owner visits the shops.
When a converter has been stolen it will not make your vehicle legally movable.
As soon as you get in the car and start the engine, you’ll know it’s stolen because there will be a deep, sharp rattle coming from the exhaust.
…and how is the trade of stolen goods done?
Carmageddon is a government-licensed end-of-life vehicle (ELV) organization and a member of the industry trade body Vehicle Recyclers Association.
Under the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 2013, it does not make purchases using cash and maintains a paper trail of all business transactions.
However, not all traders are so honest.
It is important to check that you are using a licensed dealer who is complying with the Act.
It is not just evil organizations that flout these rules. Website trading forums, such as Facebook Marketplace, are also unknowingly helping black markets flourish.
While Carmageddon offers around £200 as scrap price for a completed car, a stolen catalytic converter on the black market alone can change hands for up to £500.
Some of the links in this article may be affiliate links. If you click on them we may earn a small commission. This helps us fund This Is Money, and keep it free to use. We do not write articles to promote products. We do not allow any commercial relationship to affect our editorial independence.