Crime - Sacto 911

Heads up, Prius drivers: Sacramento police say thieves want your car’s precious metals

Catalytic converters are located on the undercarriage of vehicles, and are sought by thieves because they contain precious metals.
Catalytic converters are located on the undercarriage of vehicles, and are sought by thieves because they contain precious metals. McClatchy file

Sacramento police are warning drivers about a spike in catalytic converter thefts in the South Natomas area since the start of 2019.

At least 18 reported thefts have occurred in South Natomas, with many of them in the Willow Creek area, according to a news release Thursday by the Sacramento Police Department.

Twelve of the 18 reported thefts in that area have targeted Toyota Prius vehicles and three have targeted Honda Element models, police said.

Catalytic converters are located in the undercarriage of vehicles, connecting the engine and the tailpipe.

The car part contains a precious metal called palladium. Thieves can sell the metal for scrap, and the amount found in a single Prius catalytic converter could sell at a scrapyard for more than $450, as the Wall Street Journal reported in February.

At the time, the Journal reported that the price of palladium had soared more than 50 percent between last August and this February, exceeding the value of gold for the first time since 2002. Multiple metal market websites indicate that palladium’s value has risen about another 10 percent since then, and that it remains slightly more valuable than gold.

Many news outlets throughout California have reported on upticks in catalytic converter thefts in the past several months.

KPIX-TV in San Francisco reported earlier in April that local police departments and auto repair shops have each reported spike in thefts from Toyota Priuses.

The cost of repairs brought on by a stolen catalytic converter — which could include the additional damage or theft of nearby parts like a muffler — can be anywhere from several hundred dollars to more than $1,000 for non-Prius vehicles.

But the news is even worse for Prius owners. Aftermarket catalytic converters aren’t compatible with the Prius, transportation reporter Gary Richards wrote in a January Q&A for the Mercury News in San Jose. The cost of a new one for the hybrid car can exceed $2,500.

Sacramento police gave some tips to deter catalytic converter theft: The simplest strategy is to park your car in secure, well-lit areas or inside garages when possible; more involved approaches involving installing catalytic converter protection devices or having the converter welded to the car’s frame.

Police also say drivers can engrave the vehicle identification number or license plate number on the converter, which can assist law enforcement in tracking down the stolen property.

Sacramento police urge anyone whose catalytic converter is stolen to file a police report immediately.

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Michael McGough anchors The Sacramento Bee’s breaking news reporting team, covering public safety and other local stories. A Sacramento native and lifelong capital resident, he interned at The Bee while attending Sacramento State, where he earned a degree in journalism.