Crime Alert: Catalytic Converter Thefts
On the way to your business, at the start of another working day, do you sometimes wish that, just for once, no new problems will come along?
It would be nice, wouldn't it; just to be able to deal with what is already on your plate, without having anything extra heaped on it!
It seems, sometimes, that there is a never-ending stream of EC Directives, new legislation, regulations, industry codes of practice, as well as other things, like crime, global warming etc, to deal with, not to mention those, not so small matters, such as keeping your customers happy, and oh yes - making a profit!
Perhaps you've just found out that your best mechanic doesn't have the right training and qualification to work on vehicle air-conditioning systems any more, or that the old broken light tube that the authorities found in the waste skip should have been treated as hazardous waste; the dirty water from the cars being washed by your valeting firm has breached the Groundwater Regulations, or the Environmental Health Officer has told you that your food hygiene and food safety systems don't meet the law, because of the hot bread rolls you are now preparing in the forecourt shop!
Well, as you prepare for the daily tide of such occurrences to wash over you, hold tight - there is another wave coming! What is the one thing you would expect car thieves to take besides the vehicle itself? Stereo system, your mobile phone, sat nav - but your catalytic converter? It seems like the theft of catalytic converters has not only arrived in the UK, it is now well and truly, a current and growing part of the crime scene.
Most modern cars are fitted with catalytic converters, a pollution-control device hooked up to the exhaust system on a vehicle to reduce harmful emissions from the engine. There isn't much metal in a catalytic converter. But the catalyst - which makes a catalytic converter work - can cost thousands of pounds per ounce. It is typically made up of three precious metals - platinum, palladium and rhodium.
Although only very small amounts of these metals are used in a catalytic converter, the value of these metals has risen by between half and six times in the past two years, making them a target for thieves.
Now the Association of Chief Police Officers of England, Wales and Northern Ireland (ACPO) has teamed up with the British Metals Recycling Association (BMRA) to fight the crime.
Experts say a thief can remove a converter in a few minutes and sell it for up to £150.
Police suspect that stolen converters are often shipped overseas to countries where the precious metals can be extracted.
However, chances are most drivers don't even know where the device is on their vehicle - but thiefs do! It's incredibly easy to steal and it's a crime on the increase.
So why are catalytic converters such a hot item?
As air quality rules tighten, manufacturers increase the amount of the catalyst metals to keep up. This demand drives the price up, making the catalytic converters doubly attractive.
"The reason these thieves are stealing them is because it's easy," says Andrew Miller, Manager Risk Control Surveyors at Allianz Insurance Plc.
"All they have to do is spend a short time amongst the vehicles on a forecourt, loosening some bolts and a short while later, the thieves can be driving away with a dozen or so catalytic converters". Of course many thieves are not so considerate and use a portable reciprocating saw, damaging the exhaust systems still further in the process.
Fairly typical examples of such thefts are incidents involving eight cars on one site, £5,000 worth from another garage, 40 units from another area, and so it goes on. It is not unusual for dealers to suffer repeated attacks on their displayed vehicles, making this a real annoying and costly new crime.
The fact so many are disappearing doesn't shock Miller. "With the price of the scrap coupled with the value of the part, and how easy it is to steal, I'm not surprised at all."
You can't lock them down and you can't really stop a determined thief - so what can you do to protect yourself?
For your private car(s) - try to park in a well lit, safe and secure place, ideally covered by CCTV; where a stranger with a saw or other instrument would be instantly suspected. At home, when possible, keep your car(s) in your garage instead of on your driveway. The quieter and more isolated your parking place is, the greater the chance of a theft.
For your business - each commercial premise is unique. Its location, local populous, type of buildings and perimeter, business and stock type etc, will have a bearing on its security needs, so each site needs its security to be tailored to suit.
Security is often a balancing act of the possible, practical, economic and necessary, and even then you may not get it right first time. It is something that has to be constantly monitored and reviewed against the background of the ever changing country we live in.
Leading insurance companies like Allianz Insurance Plc are no strangers to this type of problem. Their surveyors visit thousands of policyholders' commercial premises each year and provide risk management advice on a range of issues - this is just one of the many ways insurance companies such as Allianz tries to help its customers.
Don't forget, an experienced insurance surveyor has probably visited thousands of other business premises, and learned from that experience. If there is a realistic and practical solution to your risk management problem, s/he will have the answer; after all, they want your business to be safe, secure and successful just as much as you do.
Note: This article first appeared in the Retail Motor Industry Federation (RMIF) publication "Automotive Insight".