As catalytic converter thefts mount, Prius owners should take care

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Cutaway of metal catalytic converter

According to public records requested by the Exedra from the Piedmont Police Department, eight catalytic converters were stolen on Aug. 10, all of them from Toyota Prius cars. 

The first incident occurred at a residence on Oakland Avenue and Jerome Avenue and was reported by a citizen at 7:18 a.m. According to Piedmont Police dispatcher Tonia Struble, the citizen called in the theft after starting their vehicle and noticing an unusual  “commotion.” 

Without a catalytic converter, Struble stated vehicles sound louder than usual when they start up.  Catalytic converters are air pollution control devices common to many gas and hybrid vehicles. 

When officers canvassed the area they discovered additional victims who also reported thefts of catalytic converters from their cars.

The Aug. 10 thefts are part of a larger wave that began earlier in the summer and has affected Piedmont as well as Berkeley and Davis. Three converter thefts were reported in Piedmont in late July, two of which occurred on the same day. All involved Toyota Priuses. 

According to Berkeley Police Department Public Information Officer Byron White, there have been 49 cases in Berkeley since the beginning of July, mostly targeting Priuses, but also targeting Honda Accords, Honda Elements and Acuras.

It takes at most a few minutes for a thief to remove a catalytic converter from underneath a vehicle. Priuses are thought to be popular among thieves because their lighter weight assists in jacking up the vehicle. 

Converters can contain precious metals like platinum, palladium and rhodium and can sell for $70 to $450 each. Stolen converters can also be resold through repair shops. Replacing converters may cost several thousand dollars.

Catalytic converters control and reduce exhaust emission by-products like nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons. According to cars.com, catalytic converters are “one of the last lines of defense against air pollution from vehicles.”

For those who are renewing their licenses and need to pass a smog test, vehicles should have their catalytic converters or risk failing the test.

The Prius, because it’s light, is a prime target in these crimes

Forbes reported in April that some states like California have regulations that keep track of catalytic converter sales. Records documenting sale dates and locations and photos of the seller are kept for two years. Junk dealers and recyclers must also report the sale information to the chief or police or sheriff. 

Nicky Hamila of Toyota Product Communications provided the Exedra with this statement: “Unfortunately, catalytic converter theft is an industry-wide challenge. We encourage drivers to take preventative measures like smart parking to protect themselves against theft – this includes parking in covered, secured areas at home, when possible, and parking in areas as close to the entrance in well-lit, visible areas in public parking lots. We continue to monitor this issue as the safety and security of our customers are top priorities.”

Although two individuals were arrested on Aug. 7 in Piedmont on suspicion of their connection to the Berkeley catalytic converter thefts, they have not been directly charged for those crimes.

PPD continues to investigate.

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Email Sarah Belle Lin at sbellelin@piedmontexedra.com.

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