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Cars Toyota to covertly mark 100k catalytic converters to catch thieves

21:45  13 may  2021
21:45  13 may  2021 Source:   dailymail.co.uk

AA reports a 6,760% explosion in catalytic converter thefts in 4 years

  AA reports a 6,760% explosion in catalytic converter thefts in 4 years The AA said it was called to just 57 breakdowns caused by catalytic converters being stolen in 2017,though that figure rose to 3,910 instances in 2020. Becky John, inset, is one of those victims.The vehicle recovery service said it was called to just 57 instances of broken down motors found to have had their catalytic converters stolen in 2017.

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Toyota has announced it is to spend more than £1million as part of a ploy to capture catalytic converter thieves red handed.

The Japanese car maker has said it will 'covertly' mark more than 100,000 of the devices fitted to older cars - at no cost to owners - in a bid to help police arrest and charge criminals.

Robberies of the exhaust devices - which are made up of precious metals that are very valuable on the black market - have sky-rocketed in recent years as brazen criminal gangs have been hacking them from the underside of parked vehicles.

a close up of a hand: Toyota's bid to catch cat burglars red handed: The car maker's UK arm has been handed £1million to watermark catalytic converters on over 100,000 used models as part of increased efforts to help police catch criminal gangs behind the spike in robberies in recent years © Provided by This Is Money Toyota's bid to catch cat burglars red handed: The car maker's UK arm has been handed £1million to watermark catalytic converters on over 100,000 used models as part of increased efforts to help police catch criminal gangs behind the spike in robberies in recent years

A report by Admiral Insurance says thefts are currently at an all-time high, with claims soaring 57 per cent in March.

Police recover more than a thousand stolen catalytic converters

  Police recover more than a thousand stolen catalytic converters The joint police operation into catalytic converter theft also resulted in the arrest of more than 50 criminals.Coordinated by the British Transport Police, the operation saw forces come together alongside the Joint Unit for Waste Crime. They carried out enforcement action, intelligence-led site visits, forensic marking and educational events.

Many manufacturers are affected by what police call 'a co-ordinated, organised crime linked to other serious forms of offending'.

However, Toyota cars in particular have been targeted, with the devices fitted to the exhaust systems of the Japanese brands' hybrid models containing a higher concentration of precious metals and being generally less corroded.

Models like the Toyota Prius, Auris Hybrid and Yaris Hybrid - and the Lexus RX SUV - have all been ear-marked by gangs as having the most valuable devices, with many criminals hacking them from the underside of vehicles in broad daylight.

The resulting damage can cost thousands of pounds to repair, and lead times for replacement parts can be up to two months.

a car parked on the side of a road: Hybrid cars are ripe for thieves as the catalytic converters contain a higher concentration of precious metals and are generally less corroded. It's no surprise then that the Toyota Prius - the most-bought hybrid in the UK - is among the list of cars criminals are preying on © Provided by This Is Money Hybrid cars are ripe for thieves as the catalytic converters contain a higher concentration of precious metals and are generally less corroded. It's no surprise then that the Toyota Prius - the most-bought hybrid in the UK - is among the list of cars criminals are preying on

It is usually possible to claim for the damage on insurance, but in some cases vehicles may be a write-off if the harm caused in beyond repair.

Catalytic converter thefts rocket 104% in a year

  Catalytic converter thefts rocket 104% in a year Police data shows a surge in criminal gangs stealing car catalytic converters – and they’re being sold on Facebook, too.Figures obtained from 25 police forces via Freedom of Information requests by consumer group Which? showed a 104 percent rise in devices being stolen between 2019 and 2020.

To combat the spike in thefts, dealers will use police-approved water-markings, which are invisible, so that stolen catalytic converters can be traced to a specific crime, helping police in their attempts to fight the organised gangs responsible.

It also raises risks for all those handling the devices along the criminal chain, from theft to eventual disposal and recycling.

What is a catalytic converter are what makes them valuable?

Catalytic converters - which are fitted to all petrol cars manufactured from 1993 - are there to reduce the level of harmful pollutants from being emitted from a vehicle's exhaust pipes.

The devices do this by taking the gases produced and converting them into water vapour and less harmful emissions via a series of chemical reactions.

They are made up of an array of valuable materials including palladium, rhodium and platinum - and criminal gangs are well aware of this small fortune stored beneath your vehicle.

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Rhodium has seen its price soar in recent years and is far more valuable per ounce than gold.

The hugely volatile Rhodium price has risen 1,300 per cent over the past three years to stand at $ 29,200 per ounce, which compares to the current gold price of $1,787 – up 35 per cent in three years.

Palladium's price has risen 177 per cent over the past three years to $2,846, while platinum's is up 31 per cent over the same period to $1,209.

With gangs likely to have regular buyers for the metals lined-up, it has simply become a case of sawing the devices off cars as quickly as possible to escape undetected.

In the case of Toyota and Lexus (part of the Toyota company) vehicles, thieves are targeting older hybrid models because the catalyst in a hybrid has a lower work load than in a non-electrified vehicle, meaning it is in better condition.

In more modern Toyota and Lexus cars the catalysts are of a different design and are not typically targets for theft as a result.

The car company will not only offer 'Smartwater' markings to customers who visit retailers for servicing and MOTs but is also issuing 20,000 kits to police foces to support their local anti-catalyst theft initiatives.

Catalytic converter thefts soar due to value of precious metals

  Catalytic converter thefts soar due to value of precious metals Some UK police forces have seen catalytic converter thefts rise by more than 400 per cent, with organised gangs targeting dozens of cars a day. Between 2019 and 2020, thefts across England, Wales and Northern Ireland rose by 104 per cent on average, figures from 25 forces obtained by Which? show. © Provided by Daily Mail ( Rare metals found in catalytic converters are more valuable than gold and can be easily sold on. So a single converter, which cleans harmful gases before they exit an exhaust pipe, can fetch as much as £400.

The company is also working with the AA, Toyota's road-side partner, so its patrols can point customers to where they can get a free kit.

The AA last month described the rise in catalytic converter thefts from vehicles as an 'explosion' after reporting that its patrols attended almost 4,000 cases last year where emissions devices had been ripped from the underside of cars.

The vehicle recovery service said it was called to just 57 instances of broken down motors found to have had their catalytic converters stolen in 2017 - that figure rose to 3,910 in 2020 - a leap of 6,760 per cent over just four years.

Rob Giles, Toyota (GB) director of customer services, said: 'We're pleased to be starting this initiative, working closely with the police, not only to help them with their efforts to combat this crime but also to send a clear message to criminals that if they choose to target a Toyota or Lexus car there is now a far higher chance of getting caught.'

Toyota also hopes that the marking programme will dissuade rogue scrap metal dealers who are happy to pay cash for stolen converters, now that the risk of being caught is greater than ever before.

Giles added: 'We know from our work with police and others that the solution to this crime is not only arresting those doing the stealing, but also making life harder for those buying the stolen goods. We hope this will help in that.'

Advice issued on how to keep your car safe as catalytic converter thefts rise by 104% in a year

  Advice issued on how to keep your car safe as catalytic converter thefts rise by 104% in a year Thefts of catalytic converters have surged by more than 100% in a year, according to new research. © Other Catalytic converter thefts increased during 2019 and 2020 Data from 25 police forces across England, Wales and Northern Ireland obtained by consumer organisation Which? reveals incidents of thefts surged 104% between 2019 and 2020.North Wales had the highest spike in cases, rising from nine in 2019 to 46 in 2020 - an increase of 411%.Meanwhile, the data showed that the West Midlands had the highest number of cases in 2020, with 1,626.

Toyota had previously said it had not envisaged the 'rapid rise' in thefts, which in turn 'impacted our ability to source enough of the parts we need in some cases'.

In some instances it has resulted in vehicles being written off entirely due to the level of damage caused by thieves ripping the devices from the underside of cars.

This is mainly due to the cars being targeted being older, meaning a high repair bill to fix the damage caused may exceed the vehicle's value and is therefore deemed 'uneconomical' to fix by an insurer.

'The catalytic converter was stolen from my 14-year-old car'

Becky John, 57, a fashion stylist from North London explained that her catalytic converter was recently stolen by thieves, despite her car being 14 years old.

She is now having to fork out more money to buy a contraption that should deter thieves, who have been found to target the same vehicles repeatedly if they think it is parked somewhere that's exposed.

'My catalytic converter was stolen at the beginning of the month by a horrible gang of thugs,' Becky said.

'My car is in the garage now waiting for a new one - luckily my insurance company have been brilliant covering the cost which is great because my car is 14 years old!

'I obviously reported the whole incident to the police.

'Catalytic Converter crimes are rife here, most evenings someone gets 'done'.

'The police said that it's very common for the thieves to strike again once the car is back on the road with a spanking new catalytic converter.

'I am now looking for a catalytic converter cage or plate that I can install to stop this rather horrible crime happening to me again, as I doubt whether my insurance company will pay up twice!'

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Damage to Becky's car can be seen here, with the catalytic converter ripped off the exhaust system © Provided by Daily Mail Damage to Becky's car can be seen here, with the catalytic converter ripped off the exhaust system

Ham-fisted catalytic converter thieves are writing motors off

Organised gangs are scouring areas equipped with jacks to lift vehicles off the ground to allow for easy access to the valuable devices.

While more skilled thieves are unscrewing them from the underside of cars, others are taking a more ham-fisted approach and sawing them off the exhaust system, causing irreversible damage and resulting in some owners having to replace entire exhaust systems.

And because there is often no third party to claim against, drivers using their polices to cover repair costs are also losing their No Claims Discount, unless otherwise protected.

Some of those who have had the device stolen can face long waits to obtain a new one and get their car back on the road, thanks to the increase in thefts and fast-developing supply issues with parts.

This means they are unable to use their cars until a replacement part is fitted, else face fines.

a man sitting in a car: Organised criminals are scouring the streets for vehicles that are easy targets, carrying car jacks and tools to quickly remove the exhaust devices in another vehicle so they can make a quick getaway © Provided by This Is Money Organised criminals are scouring the streets for vehicles that are easy targets, carrying car jacks and tools to quickly remove the exhaust devices in another vehicle so they can make a quick getaway

Motoring association MotorEasy analysed 10,000 garage bills for This is Money  and found the average cost to replace a catalytic converter is up to £1,300, with over £900 of the cost being parts.

Zurich, based on claims by its customers, said the average payout for damages caused by cat thieves is over £1,200.

However, the AA says claims have amounted to anything between £2,000 and £3,000 when the devices have been sawed away from the exhaust.

Previous research by AA Insurance identified a marked increase in claims made by motorists who had catalytic converters pinched from their parked cars - some having had them stolen twice from the same motor.

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diagram: The catalytic converter is part of a vehicle's exhaust system. Criminals in a hurry are sawing them off, causing irreversible damage that can result in repair bills of up to £3,000 © Provided by Daily Mail The catalytic converter is part of a vehicle's exhaust system. Criminals in a hurry are sawing them off, causing irreversible damage that can result in repair bills of up to £3,000

Innocent drivers who fall victim to this crime also face punishment if they are caught driving their cars without a cat.

Motorists caught by police driving a vehicle knowing the catalytic converter has been removed can be fined up to £1,000 because the car will be producing higher levels of pollution than they are allowed to.

However, the additional sound the exhaust makes when a catalytic converter has been removed and not replaced will be so loud that motorists will be well aware there's something amiss.

While the vehicle will still be driveable, removal of the device will trigger a warning light on the dashboard, reduce fuel economy and cause plenty of headaches from extra exhaust roar.

What's being done to tackle catalytic converter thefts?

The Scrap Metal Dealers Act introduced in 2013 was designed to make life more difficult for thieves to sell stolen metal parts to dealers by banning cash sales and demanding firms to conduct identity checks on sellers.

Devices to secure your catalytic converter

Concerned drivers can can purchase devices that lock in around the converter to make it more difficult to remove.

Providers include Catloc and Catclamp, which can be installed on a number of different vehicles.

However, they're not cheap, with prices as high as £250 for some models.

But while councils are responsible to carry out inspections of licensed dealers - and close those found to be buying parts that have clearly been pinched - a BBC 5 Live investigation last year said enforcement levels are almost non existent.

The report found that of 240 licencing councils in England contacted, almost 120 had not visited any scrap dealers in the previous 28 months and many of the others had only inspected once or twice.

However, a small number had taken action against identified  rogue dealers with support form the police.

The BBC report explained: 'Part of the problem is that thousands of scrap dealers simply chose to drop out of the licensing scheme when the Scrap Metal Dealers Act came into force.

'Many of those, says the industry, are now those dealers that advertise on the internet and buy catalytic converters with no questions asked.'

Nesil Caliskan from the Local Government Association, blamed councils 'limited resources' and 'limited powers' to tackle unlicensed operators, calling on the government to allow them greater enforcement to tackle the issue.

Police forces have also recognised the spike in catalytic converter thefts, with Kent Police receive a significant year-on-year increase in the number of the emissions devices being stolen, with 214 taken in the first 10 months of 2019 compared to 51 cases in all of 2018.

a wooden table: Palladium - which can be extracted from inside the devices - has risen 177% in value over the past three years to $2,846 © Provided by This Is Money Palladium - which can be extracted from inside the devices - has risen 177% in value over the past three years to $2,846 text: The Scrap Metal Dealers Act was introduced in 2013 to force scrap-metal businesses to better vet sellers and not accept cash sales. However, abuse of the system means thieves still have an easy means of benefiting from the sale of valuable catalytic converters © Provided by This Is Money The Scrap Metal Dealers Act was introduced in 2013 to force scrap-metal businesses to better vet sellers and not accept cash sales. However, abuse of the system means thieves still have an easy means of benefiting from the sale of valuable catalytic converters

Police tips to keep your car safe from catalytic converter thieves

- If possible, park in a locked garage or in a well-lit, densely populated area

- If you don't have access to a garage, park close to fences, walls or kerbs with the exhaust being closest to the barrier; this will make the theft more difficult

- Avoid mounting your car on the kerb to park as it gives thieves easy access

- If your catalytic converter's bolted on ask your local garage to weld the bolts to make it more difficult to remove

- Consider a 'cage clamp' which locks around the converter

- Speak to your car dealership about a tilt sensor that activates the alarm if someone tries to jack up your vehicle

- If you see someone acting suspiciously under a vehicle, report it to the police

Read more

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