Beware of the Cat Thief!

This isn't a pet insurance story, rather something more sinister. April saw an upsurge in reports that car owners have found that their catalytic converter has gone missing.

The catalytic converter is part of the exhaust system on your car: it converts toxic emissions from the engine into less harmful ones. Catalytic converters – or 'cats' – are also widely used on industrial engines, forklift trucks, railway diesel locomotives, and other equipment that is powered by an internal combustion engine.

A cat has a number of elements, but the catalyst itself uses precious metals such as platinum, palladium or rhodium, which create a chemical reaction with the exhaust gasses. It is these metals that the thieves are after, encouraged by the fast rising prices of precious metals during the recession. For example, the price of palladium has reached $570 per ounce on the world market, and one chemical industry commentator expects this price to rise to $2,000 per ounce over coming months.

Simon Douglas, Director of AA Insurance, says that insurance claims for stolen cats and the damage often caused while they are removed has started climbing. "This is a worrying trend," he adds. "The trouble is, removing them is quite easy, especially from larger 4x4s that have a high ground clearance and are easy for a slim person to get under. But family cars aren't immune and they may be carelessly jacked up to get at the exhaust system and the bodywork can be quite badly damaged in the process.

"Thieves often use battery-powered grinders or saws to remove the converter and it's gone in just a few minutes. On the black market they can fetch over £100 each – yet they can cost over £1,000 to replace especially if there is secondary damage to the car."

The converters are usually sent overseas to have the precious metals recovered.

The AA's tips to protect yourself against a cat thief:

  • Put a unique mark on your cat, so if it does get stolen the police can match the part with the vehicle. Contact Retainagroup 07000 111333 to buy the kit
  • Park in well-lit places, especially where there is good security
  • Garage your car at night if you can
  • Look out for people who seem to be working on cars, especially in public places – tell the police
  • Fit an alarm that is sensitive to movement of the car – the saw or grinder used would set this off
  • Tell the police immediately when you discover the theft – the car will make a terrible din when you start it