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Motorists beware: Catalytic converter theft has hit Cape Town

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A catalytic converter is a car part that reduces the toxic gases and pollutants in exhaust fumes, which is lined with precious metals such as rhodium, palladium and platinum that are all more valuable than gold. Thieves across the world have caught wind of this and cat theft – as the device is known – has spiked and according to reports the trend has found its way to South African shores.


Five years ago, an ounce (28,3g) of palladium was worth $R500 (R7148, 88), according to a New York Times report from February 2021. Last year, the value of the precious metal hit a record high of $2875 (R41 106) and is currently valued at between $2000 (R28 595, 52) and $2500 (R35 744, 40) an ounce.

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Rhodium prices are even more remarkable and have increased by more than 3000 percent over the last five years. An ounce that would have cost $640 (R9150, 57) then hit a record high of $21 900 (R313 120, 94) in 2021 – this is approximately 12 times the price of gold.

Thieves target catalytic converters because of the value of the precious metals they contain and their easy to reach external location.

The owner of automotive establishment Noise Boys, Melia Tappan, told CapeTalk’s Refilwe Moloto that they noticed a spike in cat thefts in the Western Cape since January.

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Tappan added that the stolen parts can go for anywhere between R4000 and R20 000 per unit.

“It’s bad. The catalytic converter does the diagnostics, the software to your engine… if it gets taken out of your vehicle it can cause a lot of damage like oil leaks and more,” said Tappan. “To have it replaced is not easy. You have to have the car towed in.”

Thieves use high powered cutting tools or even bolt cutters to remove the precious part and get away within minutes. They often cause damage to the exhaust system or other car components. A telltale sign that a converter has been stolen is a loud sound from the exhaust


Catalytic converter thieves are known to target late-model bakkies and SUVs that have a high ground clearance and are therefore easier to get underneath, while in England between 2019 and 2020 older hybrid vehicles were targeted because their cats are known to have more precious metals than newer cars.

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Toyota in Great Britain was asked to replace 60 catalytic converters in 2018, by 2019 that number had jumped to 4800 because of the spike in thefts, according to The Guardian.

According to British police, the best way to prevent cat theft is to park your car in a garage or a busy area. Another suggestion is to fit a protection device made to cover the converter and installing a Thatcham-approved alarm system that goes off when the vehicle is tilted or lifted.


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