Thefts of catalytic converters from cars rose sixfold across England and Wales in 2019, figures obtained by the BBC reveal.
Data from police forces across the two countries shows there were 13,000 recorded thefts of the emissions-reducing devices, compared to just 2000 in 2018.
London suffers the highest rates of theft, it's claimed. Data from forces in Scotland and Northern Ireland wasn't provided to the BBC’s 5 Live Investigations team.
It's suggested that while offences fell during lockdown, they're now on the rise again, with thefts in hospital car parks from NHS staff a recent talking point across social media.
Thieves are targeting catalytic converters for the lucrative scrap value of precious metals that are used as part of reducing the harmful substances emitted from the engine during the combustion process. Three metals used - rhodium, platinum and palladium - have all risen substantially in value in recent years, with palladium selling for more per gram than gold in 2019.
The offenders will target a parked car, usually at night, by getting underneath it and using tools to remove the converter from the exhaust system.
Older hybrid cars, such as the Toyota Prius and Toyota Auris, are particularly targeted, because their reduced emissions cause less damage to the precious metals over time. Toyota now sells a 'Catloc' that makes it harder for thieves to remove the devices but doesn’t stop thefts altogether.
Assistant chief constable Jenny Sims, car crime lead for the Nation Police Chiefs’ Council, told the BBC that police forces are “planning and undertaking intelligence-led operations, at both the national and regional level, to stop converters from being stolen”.
Police warn drivers to take precautions where they can, including parking their cars in a locked garage or a busy, well-lit area. They also recommend installing a Thatcham-approved alarm that can activate if the vehicle is lifted or tilted.