Stealing cars has not lost its allure whether a criminal is stealing your car because he wants it, whether it is theft to order for involvement in another crime like robbery or it could even be theft of particular parts of the car rather than the actual vehicle itself.  And that’s not forgetting stealing some valuable item that has been left in the car.  So what are the latest targets on the car thief’s Christmas wish list, Show Plates Express take a look.

Catalytic Converters 

These are the latest nickable object from cars, removed from the underside of the vehicle in just a matter of minutes.  Catalytic Converters or ‘cats’ as they are known in the trade, clean up harmful gases before they exit the vehicle via the exhaust pipe.  They have been around a long time so why the recent trend to steal them?  

They contain precious metals  - rhodium, platinum and palladium - and the cats on new hybrid vehicles often contain higher concentrations of these metals and have generally suffered less corrosion because, for a lot of the time, the car is running on battery power.  There is not a large quantity to be had from one catalytic converter but the current price for these metals is higher than gold and silver so it’s well worth the effort, particularly as it only takes a matter of a few minutes for an experienced thief to remove.  A canny car thief can make around £200 per time either selling the metals or offering the complete item as secondhand to people who need to buy another catalytic converter!

Ironically, one of the main markets is for palladium particularly in China and India both of which are now taking steps to combat their extreme levels of vehicle pollution.  Some drivers have been targeted more than once with sufficient inconvenience to prompt a switchback from hybrid to a conventional engine.  A new catalytic converter can cost anywhere from £500-£1,0000.  Certain vehicles are on the target list and these include the hybrid models, the Honda Jazz and the Prius, and also vans and SUVs which are higher off the ground offering easier access to their exhaust system.

You may know from the sound of the engine that the cat has gone or you may remain blissfully unaware until your vehicle is next in the garage or in for MOT if your vehicle is old enough whereupon it will fail on its emissions output.  In London, police have reported 3,000 converter thefts in just the first six months of 2019 compared with a total of 1,500 for all of 2018 and only 170 the year before.

Some manufacturers are catching it from angry customers who have been on the receiving end of the cat burglars particularly Toyota where there has been a lot of annoyed online ranting about the ease with which the cats can be removed from both the Auris and Prius models.

Toyota has devised a ‘catloc’ designed to make the catalytic converter harder to steal but motorists have had to front the cost of fitting these which can result in a garage bill of several hundred pounds.  Police are reluctant to point the finger at any one car manufacturer in particular but word on the ground is that Toyotas are the main target for thieves.  In response to mounting criticism, Toyota has also reduced the cost of new converters down to between £200 and £250 but currently, demand is outstripping supply.

Keyless Technology

Keyless technology is thought to be behind the increase in luxury car theft as figures show an alarming rise in activity amongst car stealing gangs at the higher end of the market.

Utilising the benefits of modern technology, gangs reputedly share information via apps like WhatsApp, details like lists of cars to target and data on how to gain entry to the vehicles and the removal of tracking devices.  The thefts are sophisticated with stolen cars quickly receiving a new identity and wearing false plates belonging to a near-identical vehicle somewhere in the UK thus keeping them under the ANPR radar for long enough to usually ship the vehicle overseas before it can be recovered.  

The alternative destination for these vehicles is what is called, ‘the chop shop’ where the car is taken apart and converted into lucrative spares.  Keyless technology is definitely thought to have contributed to this rise in car thefts the figures for which show a steady upward incline in the last five years.  Data reveals a total of 75,308 cars stolen in the UK in 2013/14 increasing to 112,000 in 2017/18.

Keyless technology works via a radio signal which is triggered when you put your hand on the door handle.  Providing your car key is within range then the car door will open, ideal if your key is in your pocket or your bag and your hands are full of shopping or other things.  New technology inevitably creates a following crime wave where thieves and hackers work out how to circumvent it, in this case using a signal booster so the car thinks the key is in closer proximity than it actually is, for example when it is hanging up in your kitchen and the car is outside on the drive.  It can take as little as a few seconds for the car to be stolen by experienced thieves.

The car insurer, Direct Line, revealed statistics showing a year on year increase of prestige car thefts facilitated by this new technology which tends to be on the higher end, higher specification vehicles.  Will this see a return to the old days of clunky steering wheel locks and tyre clamps?  71% of all prestige vehicles are stolen from the registered owners home address so should motorists be taking more active steps to protect these valuable cars?  There are lots of safety devices and safety tips which can help you keep your precious car where it belongs, outside your home.  This involves a mix of physical devices and just good habits.