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Demand for precious metals drives catalytic converter thefts

By James Billings
Practice Leader, Motor Risk Solutions

Containing precious metals more valuable than Gold, the catalytic converter fitted to your vehicle is attractive to thieves.

Catalytic converters (CATs) have been fitted to most petrol vehicles since 1992 and most diesel vehicles since 2001.

The CAT forms part of a vehicle’s exhaust system to reduce the emission of pollutants before leaving the exhaust pipe. It does this by taking the gases produced and converting them into water vapour and less harmful emissions, via a series of chemical reactions triggered by precious metals, including Rhodium, Palladium and Platinum.  

A surge in the price of precious metals over recent times has driven an increase in the theft of catalytic converters for sale on the black market, as criminal gangs have become all too aware of the small fortune stored beneath your vehicle. Rhodium is the most valuable of all precious metals and currently around five times more expensive than Gold.

The Scrap Metal Dealer Act 2013 was put in place to make it more difficult for thieves to sell stolen components, by requiring dealers to be licensed and preventing them paying cash for scrap.

Police action

CAT thefts account for 3 in 10 thefts from private vehicles in the UK, up from 2 in 10 before the Covid pandemic. In London, the Metropolitan Police Motor Vehicle Crime Unit investigated nearly 15,000 reports of such thefts in 2020, compared to 9,500 the previous year.

Police forces across the UK are taking increased action to combat the growing trend, and there are signs that recent crackdowns are having a positive effect. In March this year there were 3,245 reported instances of CAT theft in the UK. By July this figure was down to 1,378 reports. Targeting crime gangs and increased efforts from manufacturers to watermark CATs are reported as being particularly effective.

Insurance claims

QBE is a business insurance specialist. Our claims data shows that CAT thefts reported by our customers rose by around 55% between 2018 and 2020, with the trend continuing to track upwards in 2021. Vans are prime targets, perhaps unsurprisingly as they provide easier access for thieves due to the higher ground clearance. The same applies to taller 4x4s and SUVs.

Hybrid cars are also heavily targeted as they have a higher concentration of precious metals. As do models such as Honda Jazz, Honda Accord, Toyota Prius, and Toyota Auris.

A thief armed with an angle grinder can remove a CAT from beneath a vehicle in just a couple of minutes. And they can be quite brazen about it, often operating in broad daylight in car parks or while vehicles are parked outside the business or home.

Reduce the risk

Some things you can do to help reduce the risk of CAT theft include:


  • Where possible park your vehicle in a garage, or in a well-lit, busy location.
  • If your business or home has a CCTV security camera system, try to park vehicles in the field of view. This may help to alert you of a potential intruder and capture useful footage which can be used by the Police.
  • When away from home or office, try to use car parks that are well-lit and have security measures such as manned security, security lighting or CCTV.
  • Facing the bonnet towards a wall (with the CAT being near the front of the vehicle) can help to restrict the space available and make it harder for a thief to crawl under the vehicle.
  • For high-clearance vehicles such as vans and 4x4s, where possible park against/near walls or other vehicles.
  • Where you have a fleet of vehicles, consider parking the low clearance vehicles in such a way to block the high clearance vehicles, this will help to obstruct access underneath.


  • Consider installing a Thatcham-approved alarm to your vehicle. Ones that activate if the vehicle is lifted or tilted can be particularly effective.
  • If your CAT is bolted on, your local garage may be able to weld the bolts to make it more difficult to remove.
  • Consider a CAT protection device or marking system.
  • There are various CAT locks available on the market to act as a deterrent, some more effective than others. They typically use a boron chain and clamp to secure the exhaust system to a point on the chassis. Other options include a ‘cage clamp’ which locks around the converter to make it more difficult to remove.

Above all, be alert. If you see someone acting suspiciously under a vehicle, raise the alarm and/or contact the Police by calling 101, or 999 if a theft is in progress. If safe to do so, try to obtain as much information as possible to help the Police, including any vehicle registration numbers.

Risk management services for QBE customers

QBE helps businesses build resilience through risk management and insurance.

With almost a century of insuring commercial vehicles, 50 years’ experience in insuring bus and coach fleets, and 30 years as the UK leader in minibus insurance, QBE is fully committed to the motor sector and proactively helping customers to manage risk and drive down claims. This approach has made QBE a name to trust in commercial motor insurance.

QBE customers can access self-assessment questionnaires and a library of risk management material, along with a panel of approved partners who offer training, e-learning and other services at specially reduced rates. You can find more information in our Motor risk management service offerings brochure, and find out more about how QBE helps businesses to manage risk here.

Need to claim? Report it early

Finally, a reminder that if you have an incident and need to make an insurance claim, it’s important that you report it as soon as possible, ideally the same day. Reporting a claim early can save time and help you to receive any claim payments faster, as well as allowing us to help mitigate the cost of third-party claims.