Criminals have been targeting cars parked during lockdown to fuel the illegal trade of precious metals, according to the RAC and Ageas, one of the UK’s biggest car insurers.

Ageas Insurance says it has seen a marked rise in theft of catalytic converters since the start of the first lockdown just over a year ago, with this type of crime now accounting for three-in-10 of all theft claims reported. Before the lockdown catalytic converter theft only accounted for around one-in-five, the company’s data shows.

Most thefts have happened while cars have been parked at home, either on the driveway or the road, although in a small number of cases thieves were brazen enough to steal them in supermarket car parks while the driver was shopping.

Catalytic converters form part of a car’s exhaust system. They contain a honeycomb coated with precious metals such as platinum, palladium and rhodium which help to reduce and filter harmful gases from the vehicles’ exhaust systems.

But criminals steal catalytic converters so they can sell them on and make money from the precious metals inside them.

When global values of these metals go up it usually leads to a spate of thefts. Prices of rhodium hit a record highs earlier this year, up more than 200 per cent since March 2020

Robin Challand, Claims Director at Ageas, said: “While catalytic converters are just one component of a car, their theft can often result in a driver’s car being written off which is the last thing we want for our customers. We hope that by shining a spotlight on this type of crime, we can arm motorists with the information they need to protect their vehicles.”

RAC spokesman Simon Williams says: “Drivers are often oblivious of their vehicle’s catalytic converter being stolen. Our patrols are often called to attend cars that have suddenly become excessively noisy. On investigation it’s very often the case that the car’s catalytic converter has been stolen.

“When away from home, look for car parks that have security patrols and are covered by CCTV. It’s also a good idea to look for the ParkMark logo at car parks as this shows they have met certain security standards.

“But unfortunately, as Ageas’ data shows, even taking sensible precautions may not necessarily make you immune to this type of crime. For this reason, having a strong, comprehensive insurance policy is a vital in case the worst happens.”