Essential information for end of life vehicle dismantling, depollution and recycling

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EMR – The fight against catalytic converter theft

Matthew Cunningham, EMR’s Commercial Manager for End-of-Life Vehicles (ELV) and Catalytic Converters on how reducing CAT theft is dealt with at EMR.

EMR - The fight against catalytic converter theft l

Anyone who has seen videos of gangs jacking up parked cars to remove their catalytic converters knows that this has become one of the biggest issues for drivers and vehicle manufacturers in recent years.

An investigation in 2021 by consumer group Which? found that many victims of this crime have their vehicles written off, with a quarter of drivers seeing their premiums rise following a theft.

At EMR, we engage with police and other partners to play our role in identifying stolen goods and reducing the opportunities for criminals to profit.

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Firstly, it’s worth asking: why are these small devices such a magnet for thieves?

“Catalytic converters (CAT’s) are seen on the majority of vehicles we drive today and are there to help remove harmful emissions and pollutants that may otherwise pass through your exhaust,” explains Matthew Cunningham, EMR’s Commercial Manager for End-of-Life Vehicles (ELV) and Catalytic Converters.

“To do this effectively, the CAT has to withstand high-temperature exhaust fumes as well as control them. Within a CAT, there is a ceramic brick or foil which can withstand these high temperatures. It’s made with a honeycomb structure which is then laced with a coating that includes precious metals. The metals react with the exhaust fumes and help remove the toxic pollutants.”

The precious metals used are part of the platinum group metals (PGM) family and include platinum, palladium and rhodium. They help cut pollution by oxidising the carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons as they are expelled from the engine of a vehicle. Prices of these metals have increased in recent years, due partly to new emissions regulations, which require converters that contain more PGMs, to ensure they are more effective at reducing polluting gases.

Matthew added: “To ensure that we pay the best possible price for every end of life vehicle that we recycle, we use sophisticated systems to estimate the value of the catalytic converter on each vehicle that we receive and we adjust our pricing accordingly.”

EMR - The fight against catalytic converter theft pEMR sites already use several strategies to reduce the risk of theft. Stock is held in a secure area, accessible only to employees.

EMR barcodes each item, providing an audit trail throughout its processing.

And of course, EMR complies with the 2013 Scrap Metal Dealers Act, which prohibits paying cash for scrap and requires valid identification to for each transaction.

For a longer-term solution to this problem, EMR is also engaging with the police and policymakers. Finding a way to reduce crime while not unfairly affecting the thousands of legitimate businesses which dismantle cars and trade parts isn’t easy, however.

“It has been suggested that recyclers like EMR should request a car’s logbook for any catalytic converter we buy, but the law says this must stay with the car,” says Matthew. “There is also no feasible way to guarantee that the catalytic converter belongs to the vehicle and logbook.”

Another change, which has been suggested by the Government, is marking every catalytic converter with a car’s registration number.

“That’s very difficult to do because as a car is built it doesn’t have a registration number,” Matthew explains. “It does have a VIN number, but as a vehicle goes down the line, manufacturers simply attach one catalytic converter of many in the factory. This change would mean all those separate parts would need the same VIN – it would be a huge change for the industry.”

Manufacturers, meanwhile, are already playing a role – redesigning their cars to make thefts harder by repositioning these high-value parts.

As time goes on, Matthew says that as electric vehicles, which don’t use catalytic converters, continue to grow in popularity the value of PGMs will likely drop below the recent high levels seen and there will be fewer CATs to target.

While the theft of catalytic converters blights drivers and rewards criminals, EMR is committed to working with all parties to find the right solutions that secure the supply chain and protect our customers.



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Owain Griffiths

Owain Griffiths

Head of Circular Economy at Volvo Cars

Owain joined Volvo Cars in June 2021 to lead Circular Economy in the Global Sustainability Team. The company has committed to being a circular business by 2040 and has financial, recycled content and CO2 based targets for 2025, all of which Owain is working across the company to make happen. Owain previously worked for circular economy consultancy Oakdene Hollins where he advised businesses on evidence led circular economy implementation. 

Turning into a circular business and the importance of vehicle reuse and recycling.

The presentation will cover the work Volvo Cars is doing to achieve 2025 but mainly focus on the transformational work towards 2040 and the business and value chain changes being considered. Attention will be paid to the way vehicles are being dealt with at the end of life and the complexities of closing material and component loops. Opportunities and challenges which Volvo Cars is facing will be presented including engagement with 3rd parties and increasing pressure from stakeholders.

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