The number of catalytic converter thefts have "exploded" in last three years, increasing by a whopping 67 times, leading to a number of new initiatives to combat the surge.

The AA and police forces have reported an alarming rise in cases in the UK, with over half the incidents occurring within Greater London.

And both urban and suburban car owners have fallen victim to a surge in catalytic converter thefts leading to breakdowns and expensive repairs, AA patrols have reported.

Catalytic converter theft has exploded in recent years

Catalytic converter theft has exploded in recent years

The AA has launched an initiative to combat the crime, which can cost thousands to fix, and local police have also launched their own programmes.

The motoring association says it hopes its new prevention initiative will help turn the tide.

A 'crime prevention initiative' was run over the weekend at both Sainsbury's in Dartford and Sidcup, with Met Police joining the week of action by marking and registering catalytic converters free of charge.

Catalytic converter theft prevention initiative

Catalytic converter theft prevention initiative

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Great Marking event today down at Sainsburys’s Crayford over 150 vehicles marked up by the team. Next one Sunday 26th April at Sidcup Morrison’s 10am to 4pm <a href="">#Crimeprevention</a> <a href=""></a></p>— Bexley MPS (@MPSBexley) <a href="">April 23, 2021</a></blockquote> <script async src="" charset="utf-8"></script>

Cases of catalytic converter thefts has been rising for year, increasing with the recorded cases going up from 60 to 600 from 2017 to 2018, a rise of 893%.

Catalytic converter theft prevention initiative

Catalytic converter theft prevention initiative

Numbers increased by a further 483% to more than 3,000 in 2019. Although cases plummeted during the first lockdown, they soon rallied, reaching nearly 4,000 in 2020.

Patrol leader Iain Gillespie receives 3-4 reports per week of damage caused by catalytic converter theft, from his team of 27. He says he has never seen anything like it.

Iain said: “Thieves are targeting cars in workplace car parks which they know will be there all day, so they’re striking during daylight or at night at people’s home address.

“It will normally come through as a ‘noise from under vehicle’. The patrol will call the member and say that they’re on the way but suspect the cat has been taken, at which point the customer often checks under the car and sees wires hanging down.

Catalytic converter theft prevention initiative

Catalytic converter theft prevention initiative

“Watching people fall apart in front of you is horrible. It’s not what a patrol is used to as normally with a breakdown, somebody hasn’t been the target of a crime. It also leaves people with anxiety about where to park; if it was taken in a place they normally park, such as at home or work, they have little choice but to continue parking there.”

The resulting damage can cost thousands of pounds to repair, and lead times for replacement parts can be up to two months. It is usually possible to claim for the damage on insurance, but in some cases the vehicle may be a write-off.

There are some measures drivers can take to protect their vehicles, such as contacting the manufacturer as they may be able to retrofit a ‘catlock’ - a protective cage that makes it harder for thieves to get the catalytic converter off. The parts can also be marked with a serial number for identification. Drivers can also put a sticker on the windscreen to show the car has been marked. While this doesn’t always prevent theft, it does help the police ascertain if a part is scrap or has been stolen.

Edmund King, AA president, said: “Modern cat burglars stealing and selling cats for cash are part of a criminal chain.

“Catalytic converters were introduced to reduce carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides in the exhaust gas. Hybrid cars are often targeted as they use the catalytic converter less, so the precious metals are often in a cleaner state.

"They are then sold illegally; the precious metal is stacked into containers and shipped across the world to be refined, sometimes ending up back in your new state-of-the art car. Thankfully the chain stops there as the new models have less precious metals and are designed to prevent theft.

“The AA is determined to help stop this crime explosion and is working with police and manufacturers to help get more cars water marked so that cat cops can target rogue dealers and organised gangs and prove that the cats were stolen.

“The motor industry is helping by offering replacement cats and cages at cost price and helping the national roll-out of smartwater marking of cats.”

AA advice to reduce risk

  • Garage your car whenever possible
  • Park in well-lit busy areas
  • Be wary of people working under cars in public areas
  • Consider marking the metal shell of the converter with a unique mark, so that if it is removed by thieves it will be easier to trace back to your vehicle
  • Consider fitting a cat cage