There used to be a time when you were wary of parking your car in an unlit street or side road for fear you may come back to find it jacked up on blocks and all four shiny alloy wheels missing.
Locking wheel nuts went a long way to alleviating that fear and theft of alloy wheels is mercifully much reduced … only, it would seem, to be replaced by a new worry: theft of your catalytic converter.
According to The Telegraph, thieves are cashing in on six-year highs in prices for the rhodium, palladium and platinum in your car’s catalytic converter — particularly if you own a BMW, Audi or Volkswagen, at least here in the U.K. — the article reports.
Thieves are becoming very discerning, choosing certain models because of their relatively higher precious metal content (such as older Honda Jazz and Accord models) or due to their greater road clearance and easy accessibility (such as the Mitsubishi Shogun SUV).
For reasons of accessibility alone, SUVs are a favorite target because a jack isn’t required to get underneath, speeding up the process and reducing the chance of being seen or heard.
Nor does it take long to do. Apparently, a gang using battery-powered saws can have your motor jacked up or slid under and the requisite parts cut out in around 5 minutes – probably the same nifty team that used to steal your alloy wheels have just found an alternative target.
Rewards are probably similar too, the article suggests. Thieves earn up to £300 (U.S. $400) from your stolen catalytic converter, with the devices often exported to jurisdictions where the traceability of materials sold for scrap is not as rigidly enforced as the U.K.
Catalytic converters have been fitted in the exhaust of the majority of petrol cars manufactured since 1992 and diesel cars since 2001.
According to the British Automobile Association, the metal case of the converter contains a ceramic honeycombed structure that provides a massive surface area across which exhaust gases flow. Precious metals like platinum, palladium and rhodium are coated onto this ceramic structure, exploiting their properties as catalysts with the intention of cleaning the exhaust gases of harmful pollutants.
To extract the precious metals is a complex and potentially toxic process that can only be done in a sophisticated recycling plant. However, as metal prices rise, these platinum-group metals (PGMs) become progressively more valuable as scrap; as such, our vehicles are now said to be more at risk than in the past.
Beware parking up at a country fair, event or show where the vehicle is left all day among thousands of other vehicles. Apparently, there are vibration-sensitive alarm systems you can have fitted to pick up the vibrations from a saw, and you can get your catalytic converter welded to the vehicle frame to make it harder to remove.
Despite such precautions, thefts are rising, so keep away from those side roads, unlit streets or parking overnight on the front drive, or your car may sound more like a Sherman tank than a limousine next time you go to start it up.