A curious phenomenon has occurred in the crime world over the past few years, and it has left Toyota Prius hybrids in an absent lower segment across the country. Thieves are sliding under cars with cordless reciprocating saws to cut out the catalytic converter, a key part of the car’s emissions management system.
Prius models from 2004-2009 became big targets. Green car report The theft rate of Prius models in those years was 40 times higher in 2020 than four years earlier, according to data from the Highway Loss Data Institute. But there’s a reason criminals get away with this particular ingredient. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) said in a 2021 release that declining mining production in recent years has caused prices of rare metals (such as those used in catalytic converters) to skyrocket.
What is a catalytic converter and why steal it?
If your catalytic converter (or cat for short) is missing, you’ll know very quickly. Once you start the car, it will sound and smell differently than usual, because the exhaust gases will be pushed directly into the air without any filter. Don’t mistake a cat for a muffler, though. Both mufflers and cats are components of the exhaust system, but mufflers reduce exhaust gas pressure and catalytic converters convert exhaust fumes into less-harmful gases.
Inside a catalytic converter, metals such as platinum, rhodium, palladium and a ceramic honeycomb work together to break down carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides in the exhaust directly from the engine. It then traps harmful molecules and releases outputs such as hydrogen, water and carbon dioxide.
Theft rings know they can dismember a cat in minutes and sell the part for $1,000 or more. Just last month, federal, state and local law enforcement partners busted a ring of thieves, dealers and processors who made millions of dollars in stolen catalytic converters.
Advantages of the new Prius
The new Prius will come with a bigger engine and a better, faster-charging battery. The 2023 Prius’ engine has been upgraded from a 1.8-liter to a 2.0-liter version and is paired with a new lithium-ion battery pack that replaces last year’s nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) version. Lithium-ion batteries are known to charge faster, perform better in different temperature changes, and hold a charge longer than NiMH batteries. Toyota says this 2023 Prius battery is specifically 14 percent more powerful than their previous NiMH battery. Also, the car’s body style has been greatly improved, with a lower roofline, a wider stance and bigger wheels. The 2023 model received a complete refresh inside and out. That’s a 60 percent increase in horsepower, a 16 percent increase in torque and a frame that’s reinforced for rigidity, which improves ride quality.
Should we be concerned about cat theft in the new generation of Prius? Toyota Prius chief engineer Satoki Wa said, without saying the brand PopSci A reduced amount of rare metals in new generation catalytic converters may make them less attractive to thieves. Although looks-wise, it doesn’t appear too different.
Automotive journalist Amelia Dalgaard reports that the Prius is “particularly attractive to thieves because of the cleaner exhaust, the cleaner the converter and the more valuable the metal.” It may be difficult to completely reduce all cat theft, so automakers will have to find new ways to use less rare metals. In the meantime, etch your VIN into your catalytic converter to give it a fighting chance of tracking, or consider putting a sensitive alarm on it.