Almost 13,000 motorists reported the theft of their car’s catalytic converter in 2019 – a sixfold increase in a single year.
Londoners were particularly badly hit, while there are reports thieves are now targeting NHS staff.
Thieves are stealing the catalytic converters (also known as ‘cats’) for the scrap value of the precious metals contained inside.
Prices for rhodium, platinum and palladium have all rocketed: the BBC reports palladium was worth more per gram than gold in 2019.
BBC 5Live Investigations collated the figures from police forces in England and Wales; forces from Scotland and Northern Ireland were unable to provide data.
In 2018, there were just over 2,000 ‘cat’ thefts.
Catalytic converter theft is relatively easy, with brazen criminals simply jacking up a parked car and using a power tool to cut away the cat from the exhaust pipe.
There is ultimately little motorists can do to protect their car, other than parking it in a locked garage.
Nottinghamshire Police suggests parking in a well-lit area and installing a Thatcham-approved alarm with a tilt sensor, so it sounds when the car is jacked up.
Assistant Chief Constable Jenny Sims, car crime lead for the National Police Chiefs’ Council, told the BBC: “Police forces across the country are involved in planning and undertaking intelligence-led operations, at both the regional and national level, to stop converters from being stolen.
“We recognise the devastating impact these crimes can have upon the lives of victims.”
Replacing a catalytic converter costs hundreds of pounds and, on older cars, can even cause them to be written off.
Experts are now calling for better enforcement of the 2013 Scrap Metal Dealers Act, which bans cash sales and requires identity checks on sellers.
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