New breed of thieves steal catalytic converters from under your car in minutes

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Shashi Fernando wanted to help the environment by driving a hybrid car. 

But now, thanks to a burgeoning crime wave affecting thousands of motorists, he is being forced to sell his Toyota Prius.

In the space of two weeks last month, two catalytic converters were stolen from his vehicle, costing him more than £1,100.

In the first incident, thieves walked on to his driveway as he slept and disconnected the emissions control device from the underside of his car before speeding off into the night.

In the second, his converter was stolen as he queued in a fish and chip shop near his home.

Parked just out of view on a busy high street, the Prius — only recently back on the road after being fitted with a replacement 'cat' — was stripped in minutes.

'I'm still seething about it,' says Mr Fernando, a tech company CEO from Caterham, Surrey. 

'When I came out of the chip shop, started the engine and it roared in that tell-tale way, I knew immediately what had happened.

'I thought: 'Not again!' I couldn't believe it. There was a mark on my steering wheel from where I was banging my head in frustration. It's so common a crime here that local police are bored by it. On the night of the first theft, seven or eight cars were done in my area.' 

Brazen thieves were caught on camera stealing a catalytic converter from under a car

The footage was recorded in Newham, east London in January this year

Brazen thieves were caught on camera stealing a catalytic converter from under a car in Newham, east London in January this year in minutes

It is thought that thieves are roaming Britain on the lookout for targets including SUVs and vans

It is thought that thieves are roaming Britain on the lookout for targets including SUVs and vans

To add to his sense of injustice, it was Mr Fernando's determination to do his bit for the environment that made him such an appealing target.

Catalytic converters, which clean harmful gases before they exit a vehicle's exhaust pipe, are more valuable in hybrid cars because they often contain higher concentrations of precious metals and are generally less corroded, as they run for much of the time on battery power.

'Hybrids seem to be a particular favourite of the people doing this,' he says. 'I can't afford to keep replacing cat converters, so I'm replacing my car with a non-hybrid. 

I've had it for seven years and it is a good car in every other way. But I'm wasting too much time worrying about it — it's ruining my sleep. So now I will be buying a petrol-engine model. So much for the environment!'

Catalytic converter theft is soaring across the country as criminals cash in on a boom in global precious metal prices. These metals — platinum, palladium and rhodium — are used in converters to capture noxious gases as they flow through a vehicle's exhaust system.

The quantities are small, but such is their value — higher than gold and silver — that they are well worth the crooks stealing.

Palladium, in particular, has shot up in value this year, due to increased demand for converters from car manufacturers in China and India, which are reducing emissions to combat extreme air pollution in their big cities.

In another theft earlier this year, an accomplice keeps a lookout as a thief jacks up a Toyota Prius in broad daylight. Catalytic converter theft is soaring across the country as criminals cash in on a boom in global precious metal prices

In another theft earlier this year, an accomplice keeps a lookout as a thief jacks up a Toyota Prius in broad daylight. Catalytic converter theft is soaring across the country as criminals cash in on a boom in global precious metal prices

The result is a bonanza for criminals, who can strip out a converter in minutes.

Once stolen, the converters are offered to unscrupulous scrap-metal dealers for £200 or more a time — good money for thieves who can bag half a dozen in a day. 

They are then dismantled and the extracted metals sold in powder form to refineries around the world for recycling.

Alternatively, stolen converters can be sold on the online second-hand market, an attractive option for cash-strapped motorists as a new one can cost up to £1,000.

And so 'cat thieves', some of them operating in organised gangs, now roam the country on the lookout for easy targets. These include SUVs and vans, which stand high off the ground, offering easy access to the converters in the exhaust system — or hybrids such as the Prius and Honda Jazz.

The bulbous converters can simply be unbolted or, if necessary, amputated with high-powered cutting tools like angle grinders, sometimes resulting in serious damage that can put vehicles out of action for weeks.

He scrambles under to steal its catalytic converter. Gangs have been captured on CCTV stealing devices in broad daylight in less than three minutes

He scrambles under to steal its catalytic converter. Gangs have been captured on CCTV stealing devices in broad daylight in less than three minutes

To rub salt in the wound, victims are often oblivious to the fact that their converter has been stolen until they are pulled over, tested and then fined for unwittingly violating emissions limits.

Gangs have been captured on CCTV stealing devices in broad daylight in less than three minutes.

Hospital and supermarket car parks are particularly happy hunting grounds — despite ubiquitous surveillance cameras — and the problem has spread nationwide.

In London, there were around 3,000 catalytic converter thefts reported in the first six months of this year, compared with 1,500 in the whole of 2018 and just 170 in 2017.

Meanwhile, Kent police have recorded 215 thefts so far this year, up from 51 in the county last year and only 25 in 2017.

Forces experiencing cat converter crime sprees this year include Cambridgeshire, Nottinghamshire and West Yorkshire.

Got it! The pair make off with the valuable part. These metals — platinum, palladium and rhodium — are used in converters to capture noxious gases as they flow through a vehicle's exhaust system

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Got it! The pair make off with the valuable part. These metals — platinum, palladium and rhodium — are used in converters to capture noxious gases as they flow through a vehicle's exhaust system

And, just this week, Thames Valley Police warned Prius and Jazz owners in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, that thieves were

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