Last year, it was reported that the most stolen car in America was a late-model Honda Accord. Instead of going for flashier, more expensive cars, thieves usually go for the low hanging fruit, the average cars that they can slip away in unnoticed and easily sell off for parts. The Accord is the perfect car for this, and as a result, thieves made off with a whopping 53,995 of the cars in 2013 alone. But times are changing fast in the automotive world, and as hybrids and have EVs experienced a rise in popularity, it was only a matter of time before the black market caught up with them.
Unsurprisingly, the most common target for hybrid thefts is the Toyota Prius. Long seen as the industry standard for green cars, the Prius has become a ubiquitous sight on American roads, with 1.4 million cars sold in the past 10 years alone. But unlike the Accord – or any other gasoline car for that matter – this new wave of thefts targets the Prius for its batteries, leaving the cars behind, and puzzling authorities as incidents have been reported with increasing frequency in San Francisco, Sacramento, and New York.
Thieves have long targeted cars for things like stereos and catalytic converters, but the Prius battery pack is a little different. Unlike a stereo or car part, a Prius’ battery pack can’t exactly be tucked away under your arm. The 200 volt batteries weigh about 150 pounds, and carries a significant risk of electrocution if not disconnected properly. This is no simple smash and grab job either, while safely removing a Prius takes a Toyota-trained mechanic at least an hour, authorities believe by the hack jobs they’re seeing that the batteries are being cut and removed in about 20 minutes.
While this rash of thefts is surprising, its timing makes sense. The battery pack on a Prius comes with a 100,000 mile warranty from Toyota, and as the warranties for late-model cars begin to expire, the looming cost of a battery replacement can be daunting for owners. The cost of a brand new battery can run as high as $3,000, but used batteries of unknown provenance are popping up with regularity on sites like Craigslist for as low as $900, providing both a cheaper alternative for owners in need of a new battery, and quick cash for thieves who want to make serious money for 20 minutes of work.
And that isn’t to say that these cars have been left undisturbed otherwise. Repair estimates have run anywhere from $3,000-$7,000, with one San Francisco man stuck with a $10,000 repair bill after thieves mangled the car and its power cables to get to the battery.
As this unfortunate trend continues to grow, people are scrambling to find ways to make their Prius more tamper-proof. For now, authorities are recommending owner who feel that they are at risk should replace the bolts that hold the battery down with tamper-proof ones. It may not be enough to completely ward off would-be thieves, but it could be enough to convince them that your car isn’t worth the trouble. You might have to deal with a broken window, but it’s better than a $7,000 repair bill.