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Thieves are stealing Prius parts from parked cars in Puget Sound region (again)

(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Prius owners better be on guard: Thieves are back, they’re ripping catalytic converters off cars, and the repair can set you back thousands of dollars.

A tow truck driver that listens to KIRO Radio clued me into the recent spike in catalytic converter thefts. He said he has towed more than 25 Toyota Prii after the part had been ripped out from under them. He told me that a local shop had replaced more than 34 others over the summer.

Bucky’s Complete Auto Care said it has seen a 20-30% increase in catalytic converter replacements in 2020, and business is so brisk that sometimes it’s hard to keep the parts in stock.

Catalytic converter theft is nothing new. Every few years, thieves turn their attention back to the small part under your car that helps control emissions. The thieves were working the Bay Area and Sacramento last summer, and appear to have moved up to Washington once again. I’ve seen reports from West Seattle, downtown Seattle, and Woodinville.

They are also hitting Everett, where Aaron Snell with the Everett Police Department says the thieves used to target Toyota trucks and 4-Runners because they could slide underneath them. Now, Prii are being targeted because they are easy to lift.

Police: Carsharing vehicles being used as getaway cars in thefts

“What we believe criminals are doing is they’re actually jacking up the cars real quick, they’re cutting out the catalytic converters with a sawzall or unscrewing it, and then just dropping the jack and taking off,” Snell said.

So why this relatively small part that’s only worth a few hundred dollars? Just like copper thieves going after wiring, these thieves are looking for the precious metals inside.

“When they take it to the recycler, there’s a decent amount of money they can get for that,” Snell said.

There is about two grams of palladium in each converter, a metal that sells for more than $2,000 an ounce. There are also 3-7 grams of platinum in each, and that metal sells for more than $900 an ounce. If you strip about a dozen Prii in a day, and you can get nearly $3,000.

Snell said Prius owners should take precautions, like parking in well-lit areas or in view of your home security cameras. You might also consider spending a few hundred dollars to buy a catalytic converter shield. There are a bunch on the market, and are generally metal plates that you bolt over the converter. It would certainly be less expensive than getting a new one.

And you might ask how you know your converter has been stolen? It’s easy — your car will sound like a tank.

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