A rise in the theft of catalytic converters from parked cars continued last year with the car insurer Admiral reporting a 44% jump in claims for the issue from its customers.
Thieves have targeted car exhaust systems in recent years because some of the rare metals found in the catalytic converters are more valuable than gold and can be easily sold on.
The owners of petrol hybrid cars are most likely to be victims, with thieves seeking out older low-mileage cars that are less likely to have catalytic converter locks fitted.
Thieves will often pretend to be mechanics and use power tools to cut through exhaust pipes – often in broad daylight outside people’s homes and even in car supermarkets.
Cars that have had their converter stolen cannot be legally driven.
Admiral said there had been a 44% increase in claims for catalytic converters in 2020 compared with 2019, despite a dip during the first lockdown.
The rise has continued into 2021, it said, and claims linked to thefts were 57% higher in March than in the same month last year.
Lorna Connelly, Admiral’s head of claims, said: “The theft of catalytic converters is often carried out by opportunist thieves who may be working their way around different neighbourhoods.
“This isn’t always the case, however, and there is evidence to suggest that criminal gangs are involved in these types of thefts.”
Connelly said the profits from selling on the precious metals used in the converters could be used to fund bigger crimes, not just in the UK but also abroad.
“Palladium seems to be of particular interest and criminals are aware of which of catalytic converters are more lucrative and contain more precious metals than others,” she said.
Admiral’s data shows that the average cost of a claim for a stolen catalytic converter is now more than £1,500, depending on the amount of damage the thieves cause and the type of car targeted. Victims face significantly higher premiums as a result, and in many cases the car may be written off as a result of the theft.
The insurer said the most targeted models are the Honda Jazz, Toyota Prius, Toyota Auris and Lexus RX. Hybrid cars are the most targeted because their catalytic converters contain a higher concentration of precious metals, and are generally less corroded.
When Guardian Money highlighted the problem in February last year, rival insurer LV= reported a 600% increase in the number of catalytic converter theft claims between 2018 and 2019. Victims reported having two stolen in a matter of months, and some were told by their insurer that they would no longer offer cover.
Owners of vulnerable cars have been advised to fit aftermarket catalytic converter locks, or ask garages to weld up bolts to make thefts more difficult.
People without garages are advised to park their cars up against walls or fences to make access harder, and to avoid leaving the car with two wheels on the kerb which makes access much easier.