When thieves ripped out the catalytic converter from Will West’s car in broad daylight, he thought it was as bad as it gets.
The 40-year-old piano teacher had left his Honda Jazz safe in a multi-storey car park in Chichester, West Sussex, when he went to give a music lesson. He was horrified on his return to find his car rendered untrafficable.
But when Will contacted his insurer to make a claim, the situation got even worse. Like thousands of victims of this crime, he was told the theft was considered a “fault claim”. This means he would have to pay an excess amounting to hundreds of pounds to have the car repaired.
He would also lose his no-claims bonus, likely boosting his premiums next year by at least a quarter – a penalty that alone would add almost £140 to the £554 cost of the average premium for a car .
Threat: Thieves lift a car to reach the catalytic converter they can sell for its precious metals
Will is one of a growing number of drivers who have had their car’s catalytic converter stolen.
There were 10,000 thefts in London alone last year, compared to just 173 in 2017, according to the Metropolitan Police.
Flights often arrive en masse. Last month 17 visitors to Legoland in Windsor had their catalytic converters removed while visiting the theme park, while earlier this year doctors and nurses at Surrey hospitals were targeted while working from long hours.
Catalytic converters are an essential component of cars with internal combustion engines as they help filter out harmful emissions. However, they contain expensive metals, making them a prime target for thieves.
Converters fetch several hundred pounds from a scrap dealer for their palladium, rhodium and platinum, which have seen their prices soar in recent years, according to online scrap site Scrappie. Some with a particularly high metal content can fetch upwards of a thousand pounds.
The price of palladium in particular could continue to rise as Russia is a major producer. The country has been hit with severe sanctions, limiting supply.
Alex Kindred, auto insurance expert at switching site Confused.com, says insurers classify catalytic converter cases as a “fault claim” because no one else is believed to be at fault for the problem, and therefore the blame lies with the plaintiff.
It says, “If your car insurance policy covers third party fire and theft, you will be covered for catalytic converter theft. But making a claim will have an impact on your bonus-malus.
Will West says, “It’s a bit of weird logic. It’s not my fault I was robbed – I don’t think the cost should be on the insured when they’ve been robbed. It’s not like I was negligent.
Will arranged the repair himself, rather than going through his insurer, losing his no-claims discount and paying the policy deductible.
Although it is possible to drive a car without a catalytic converter, it is illegal, so victims must either file a claim or fund repairs themselves.
Less expensive cars are written off
Replacing a catalytic converter costs around £464 on average. But the total cost of returning a car to MOT can easily reach £3,000 due to the damage done. This means that many cheaper cars are simply written off.
It can be especially difficult for older drivers who have become accustomed to a beloved car. At worst, having a car written off due to catalytic converter theft can spell the end of a person’s driving life, if they don’t have the confidence and funds to buy and get used to one. Replacement vehicle.
Targeted: Will West faced a bill of hundreds of pounds
Stewart Daynes, chief mechanic at online repair marketplace ClickMechanic, says thieves cause more damage to cars when they remove converters than they do during the day.
“This type of crime was usually committed at night under cover of darkness,” he says, “but more often than not the thieves brazenly kidnap them in daylight.”
Daynes adds: “That means thieves need to remove the catalytic converter as quickly as possible, so they’re more likely to damage bodywork and other parts when they cut it.”
Thieves can steal a converter in minutes. Victims may not even know it until they try to drive their car and it roars loudly as soon as they start the engine.
Daynes’ business has seen an increase in thefts over the past month. He says evidence of crimes regularly moves from the south to the north of the country.
Daniel Briggs, chief executive of specialist car leasing group Motorfinity, said: “Unfortunately, a direct ripple effect of the cost of living crisis is an increase in crime – and the car-related implications do not are not immune to this effect.
Vehicles most vulnerable to thieves
James Jackson, who runs car repair platform Bumper.co.uk, says hybrid vehicles are particularly sought after by thieves.
This is because they only occasionally run on their internal combustion engine, so their catalytic converters see less action and tend to be in better condition than those of petrol or diesel cars. ClickMechanic’s Daynes adds that BMWs are often reserved because they have two catalytic converters, one of which is fairly easy to access.
Large 4x4s are also a popular target for criminals. “Because they’re further off the ground, the catalytic converters are more easily accessible,” says Daynes. “They also have bigger engines, and therefore bigger catalytic converters, which equates to more profit for the scammers.”
Japanese cars, especially the Honda Jazz, are also a particular target for their precious metal content.
How you can protect your car
One way to stop thieves is to install a “cage” around the catalytic converter.
Installation costs around £200 – a small price to pay, compared to repairing or replacing your car if the converter is stolen.
You can also have a mechanic weld the bolts on your converter to make it harder to steal.
Mark your catalytic converter with a ‘smart water’ pen, which allows it to be identified in the event of theft. The pens cost around £18 and the brands they produce can withstand heat and wear. You can also put a sticker on your car window to indicate that the converter has been marked, which can act as a deterrent.
Kindred from Confused.com also smartly recommends parking near a wall so thieves can’t get under your car so easily.
“A Thatcham-rated alarm, which goes off if a car is tilted, could also be a powerful deterrent,” he adds.
Immediately report any theft to the police. If you see criminals in action, avoid approaching them. However, if it is safe to do so, you can try to take photos of them and their vehicle, especially the license plate details.
If you are a victim of this crime, make sure you are treated fairly by your insurer. Check your police documents to see what you are entitled to.
If you are not satisfied with your insurer’s response, you can lodge a formal complaint and, if necessary, take it to the Financial Ombudsman Service.
Go to financial-ombudsman.org. UK for more information.
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