Gardai have been dealing with a massive surge in the theft of catalytic converters in the past three years due to the high price of precious metals contained inside some models.
In the past two weeks Gardai in various parts of the country have issued alerts about theft of the devices, which are commonly known as cats in the motor trade, while there has also been a number of high profile seizures of cats following raids in recent weeks.
The number of reported thefts of the devices soared from just 79 in 2017 to around 1,300 last year.
Sinn Fein Dublin Mid West TD Mark Ward told the Sunday World that his hybrid car was targeted despite being parked in a secure underground car park at his home in Lucan two weeks ago.
“There have been an awful lot of thefts. I was one of the recent victims. I didn’t even know what the problem was. I started my car and a noise came out. I thought it was a mechanical problem. I drove over to the mechanic and only then found out what happened.”
In his case the cat cost €1,300 to replace and even after claiming through his insurance he had to pay a €300 surcharge and it affected his no-claims bonus.
He added that "there are no identifying marks on these converters. It’s virtually impossible to get these back to their rightful owners. It’s not going to happen.
“My understanding is that these organised gangs are going into areas like locusts swarming the areas and taking what they can and then they’re moving off into other areas after that to limit their own exposure. They’re quite organised.
“When I went to the guards to report mine I was the fourth one that day alone to come in and report it in my local station in Ronanstown.
He said when he visited his car dealership to have his fixed he was the seventh customer that week to visit after their cat had been stolen.
“They’re like formula one mechanics. They’re in an out in 30 seconds. They’re like lightning.
“These groups know that people are likely to get the catalytic converter replaced so can go back and take another one as well.
“They’re deadly organised and it’s big money. The sooner the better we get something in that’s going to deter the industry the better.”
He said while there are locks available for the cats some thieves will work around this.
“I was speaking to my mechanic. There are locks and it will take it longer but if they are determined to get it they will if there’s a lock on it or not. He said manufactures should also look into using less precious materials in cats to make them less appealing to thieves.
There is already a vast difference in the value of different models ranging from a few euro to hundreds of euro.
Deputy Ward said more needs to be done in terms of traceability.
“There needs to be a way for manufacturers to trace these.
“If there’s a way of tracing them back to source and a transparent way of logging them I think that would be a way forward. Regulation is probably needed.”
John Dockrell, who owns scrapmycar.ie, a licenced car scrapper based in north Dublin, said illegal scrap yards continue to be a major problem.
“Fingal County have established that there are over 60 illegal sites working in Fingal – that’s just in Fingal.
“Until the people buying the cats have to deal with properly authorised regulated premises I think this is going to be an ongoing problem,” he said.
He said various ways of tackling the problem were being looked at.
“There was talk recently that if you had an expensive cat you’d have to show a tax book to show what car it came off.”
He said the proliferation of illegal sites was having a big impact on legitimate operators who have significant costs to ensure everything is done in compliance with regulations.
“I have no problem playing on a level playing pitch but there’s no level pitch. There are only three or four authorised facilities in north Dublin.
“Our compliance costs and overheads here are horrendous while illegal operators have no overhead costs.
“We’re talking about 60 illegal sites in a very small area. That’s only the ones they know about.”
As well as dealing in stolen cats, illegal operators are offering around €200 to people to scrap their car. They then strip them of anything valuable including cats before dumping the shell of the car.
The environmental damage caused by illegal sites is a serious issue. Hazardous materials such as diesel, petrol, oil, coolant, brake fluid and battery acid which are not disposed of properly can cause major problems
Paul Devlin, who manages scrapmycar.ie, said it is the responsibility of the car’s last owner to make sure the vehicle is disposed of properly and fines can be issued against anyone whose car is found dumped and not disposed of properly but this rarely happens.
Each car that is scrapped by law has to be issued with a certificate of destruction known as a COD.
“If the general public asked for a COD before the car was taken that would take out 70pc of the black market straight away.
Paul said the value of cats varies significantly between different vehicles with some hybrid models being more valuable to thieves due to the higher concentration of precious metals with Honda, Lexus and Toyota hybrids among the most targeted.
“Some cats are only worth €3 or €4 and others could be worth a few hundred euros and the people stealing them know which ones are worth more. They’re going for the Prius, the Honda Jazz, there’s a type 1.4 Peugeot where the cat is €600. They know what they’re looking for.”