Almost 100,000 thefts of catalytic converters have been recorded in three years, with criminals across the UK stealing 75 per day in 2022, new data obtained by Sky News reveals.
The emissions devices, which often contain valuable precious metals, are worth up to £600 on the black market. It is why in the 12 months from December 2021, criminals stole 28,000 catalytic converters.
CCTV shared with Sky News from police forces and victims of this crime shows how quick and brazen thieves are, stealing catalytic converters wherever they can find them at whatever time of day.
The knock-on effects and wide-ranging impact can be devastating.
Margaret Wright from Wigan has not just had it happen to her once, but three times in two years.
The Motability vehicle she shares with her husband was left unusable for weeks when the catalytic converter was stolen in September 2022.
She told Sky News: "It sounds really extreme to say I was on the edge the last time it happened, but I really was because we don't earn a lot of money, we don't have a great deal of things so for somebody to come along and in a matter of minutes do that, it changes your life. It impacts so hard and mentally it's very hard to take."
With a disabled husband and a 50-mile round trip to work, the impact of what seems like a minor crime has been immense.
"I feel so awful for my husband more than myself because it's his lifeline," Mrs Wright said. "I've got the ability to get buses and trains but for him, he can't get out during the day. It's very disabling for something that was there to help his mobility, that person is now again disabled."
Some 97,023 catalytic converters were stolen from the beginning of 2020 to 30 November 2022, according to OPAL, the National Intelligence Unit for Serious Organised Acquisitive Crime and a Sky News Freedom of Information request.
The worst affected area is London, but positive police action has seen thefts drop slightly in the capital since 2020.
The data alone may be alarming, but it has to be taken into account that this is a crime hugely underreported and in reality there are many more catalytic converters stolen than on record - meaning many more lives deeply impacted.
But the theft is only one element of a chain of crimes involving these devices which are so sought after.
James Kelly, head of the British Metal Recycling Association, told Sky News: "Inside catalytic converters there are this set of platinum metals: rhodium, palladium and platinum and they are extremely valuable.
"They can be up to £4,000 a troy ounce which is equivalent to about 31 grams and that could equate to about six or seven catalytic converters."
Because of their value they have become an attractive target for criminals and organised crime, it is why police forces are using covert operations to try to clamp down on the buying, selling and stealing of this car part.
Supt Mark Cleland is the UK police's metal crime lead. He told Sky News: "Last year, in the first two weeks of an operation we reduced crime by 50% nationally. But still 30,000 offences over the last 12 months, and we need as much information about who is involved. Either the public have an idea or the waste industry has an idea.
"That information is absolutely critical to help us catch and lock up people. In another operation we recovered over 2,000 stolen catalytic converters, so we're doing the work, we just need that critical intelligence and information to help do our jobs even better."
Despite police efforts, the majority of catalytic converter thefts go unsolved and whilst it may be a lucrative crime for those involved, for a single mum of three whose car was targeted, the financial repercussions are crippling.
Claire Gregan had her catalytic converter stolen whilst her car was parked at university in Lancashire in November 2022.
She told Sky News: "They may as well have come in and ransacked the house because that car was my lifeline. It was a BMW 1 Series, it was 14 years old, it was worth £1,200. I don't have much, I'm on my own with three children, putting myself through university to better our lives. And then you're given a bill of nearly £1,000. Every way I looked for a solution, I was faced with more of a challenge financially."
With the risk of a higher insurance premium and the chance of thieves targeting her car again, Ms Gregan scrapped the BMW and was forced to take a £4,000 loan to buy a new car.
She added: "They couldn't have done anything worse. What they did in those few minutes, I'm probably not going to get back level with finances until summer 2023. It completely destroyed me and has left me in such a mess."
As the crime has risen, so too has the price to replace catalytic converters. It is something the AA has noticed as callouts for this problem are increasingly common.
Patroller Sean Sidley said: "It has a huge impact on people because these catalytic converters aren't cheap to buy from the manufacturers.
"Some customers can fork out as much as £1,500 just to get their car back on the road. I've seen some dealerships that are taking quite a while to get them in stock. Getting them across to the UK from Asia has been quite difficult."
On the face of it, it may look like just a small offence, but these thefts are being carried out on a large scale. At every juncture of this crime, it is clear the criminals are not letting up - leaving victims helpless, vulnerable and with consequences often irreversible.