When thieves ripped the catalytic converter out of Will West’s car in broad daylight, he thought that was as bad as it could get. The 40-year-old piano teacher had left his Honda Jazz safely in a multi-storey car park in Chichester, West Sussex while he went to give a music lesson. He was horrified on his return to find his car rendered unroadworthy.
But when Will contacted his insurer to make a claim, the situation became even worse. Like thousands of victims of this crime, he was told the theft was deemed a ‘fault claim’. This means he would have to pay an excess amounting to hundreds of pounds to have the car fixed.
He would also lose his no-claims bonus, probably bumping up his next year’s premiums by at least a quarter – a penalty that alone would add nearly £140 to the £554 cost of the average car premium.
Menace: Thieves jack up a car to get at the catalytic converter which they can sell for its valuable metals
Will is one of a rapidly growing number of drivers who have had their car’s catalytic converter stolen.
There were 10,000 thefts in London alone last year, up from just 173 in 2017, according to the Metropolitan Police.
Thefts often come in spates. Last month, 17 visitors to Legoland in Windsor had their catalytic converters removed while visiting the theme park while earlier this year doctors and nurses at Surrey hospitals were targeted as they worked long shifts.
Catalytic converters are an essential component of cars with internal combustion engines as they help to filter out harmful emissions. However, they contain expensive metals, making them a prime target for thieves.
Converters fetch several hundred pounds at a scrap merchant for their palladium, rhodium and platinum, which have seen their price surge in recent years, according to online scrap website Scrappie. Some with a particularly high metal content can fetch more than a thousand pounds.
The price of palladium in particular could continue to rise because Russia is a top producer. The country has been hit by harsh sanctions, limiting supply.
Alex Kindred, car insurance expert at switching site Confused.com, says that insurers classify catalytic converter cases as a ‘fault claim’ because there is nobody else deemed at fault for the problem, and so the blame falls on the claimant.
He says: ‘If your car insurance policy covers third party fire and theft, you will be covered for catalytic converter theft. But making a claim will impact on your no claims bonus.
Will West says: ‘It’s slightly weird logic. It’s not my fault that I’ve had it stolen – I don’t think the cost should fall on the policyholder when they’ve been a victim of theft. It’s not as if I have been negligent.’ Will has arranged the repair himself, rather than going through his insurer, losing his no-claims discount and paying the policy excess.
While it is possible to drive a car without a catalytic converter it is illegal, so victims either have to make a claim or finance the repairs themselves.
Cheaper cars are written off
Replacing a catalytic converter costs around £464 on average. But the full price of returning a car to roadworthiness can easily stretch to £3,000 due to the damage caused. This means that many cheaper cars are simply written off.
This can be particularly tough on older drivers who have got used to a beloved car. At worst, having a car written off due to a catalytic converter theft can mark the end of someone’s driving life, if they do not have the confidence and funds to buy, and grow accustomed, to a replacement vehicle.
Targeted: Will West faced bill of hundreds of pounds
Stewart Daynes, head mechanic at online repairs marketplace ClickMechanic, says thieves are causing greater damage to cars when they remove the converters because they remove them during the daytime.
‘This type of crime was generally carried out at night under the cover of darkness,’ he says, ‘but more commonly, thieves are brazenly removing them in daylight.’
Daynes adds: ‘This means the thieves need to remove the catalytic converter as quickly as possible, so they are more likely to damage bodywork and other parts when they are cutting it away.’ Thieves can steal a converter in a matter of minutes. Victims may not even know until they try to drive their car and it issues a loud roaring sound as soon as they start the engine.
Daynes’ firm has seen an increase in thefts in the past month. He says the evidence of crimes is moving steadily from the south to the north of the country.
Daniel Briggs, chief executive of specialist car leasing group Motorfinity, says: ‘Unfortunately, a direct knock-on effect of the cost of living crisis is a rise in crime – and motor-related incidences are not immune to this effect.’
The vehicles most at risk from thieves
James Jackson, who runs car repairs platform Bumper.co.uk, says hybrid vehicles are particularly sought-after by thieves.
This is because they only run on their internal combustion engine some of the time, so their catalytic converters see less action and tend to be in better condition than those in petrol or diesel cars. ClickMechanic’s Daynes adds that BMWs are often earmarked, because they have two catalytic converters – one of which is quite straightforward to access.
Large 4x4s are also a popular target for criminals. ‘As they are further off the ground, the catalytic converters are more easily accessible,’ says Daynes. ‘They also have larger engines, and therefore bigger catalytic converters, which equates to more profit for the crooks.’
Japanese cars, particularly the Honda Jazz, are also a particular target for their valuable metal content.
How you can safeguard your car
One way to stop thieves is to install a ‘cage’ around the catalytic converter.
Installation costs around £200 – a small price to pay, compared to repairing or replacing your car if the converter is stolen.
You could also ask a mechanic to weld the bolts on your converter shut to make it harder to steal.
Mark your catalytic converter with a ‘smart water’ pen, which makes it possible to identify it if stolen. Pens cost around £18 and the markings they produce can withstand heat and wear. You could also put a sticker in your car window to say that the converter has been marked, which may act as a deterrent.
Confused.com’s Kindred also cleverly recommends parking close to a wall so thieves cannot get under your car so easily.
‘A Thatcham-categorised alarm, which goes off if a car is tilted, could also be a powerful deterrent,’ he adds.
Report any theft to the police immediately. If you see criminals in action, be wary of approaching them. However, if safe to do so, you could try to take photos of them and their vehicle – especially the licence plate details.
If you fall victim to this crime, make sure you are treated fairly by your insurer. Check your policy documents to see what you are entitled to.
If you are unhappy with your insurer’s response, you can lodge an official complaint and, if necessary, take it to the Financial Ombudsman Service.
Go to financial-ombudsman.org. uk for more information.