According to a recent email from Sonoma State University Police, thieves have been targeting cars on the campus lots. However, unlike most car thefts, locking your doors won’t prevent this crime from happening. These thieves are directly removing a part of the car’s exhaust system from underneath.
In all 3 instances, devices known as catalytic converters were taken from the vehicles. Catalytic converters are devices used to reduce car tailpipe emissions. They are required by law in California, making them a guaranteed find for any thief near a parking lot. These devices fetch a hefty premium on both the new and used markets since they contain various rare earth metals. These metals include platinum, palladium, rhodium and some others, according to ThermoFisher Scientific.
The thefts that occurred on campus all had one thing in common: the vehicles targeted were all Toyota Priuses. This trend has become more common throughout the Bay Area and other parts of California in recent months. According to Berkeley Police, in the timespan between July 20 to August 1st of 2019, 14 Toyota Prius catalytic converters were stolen.
Reports from the police indicate that these thefts are common specifically on Priuses for various reasons. The Prius is a typical car in California, so thieves know the exact routine to go through when initiating a theft. The Prius is also a relatively light vehicle, making it easy to access. A report from NBCS San Diego mentions that “converters are relatively unrestricted in the car's undercarriage, so stealing them can be a breeze.'' From a report on thefts in Davis, KCRA mentions that the Priuses catalytic converters also fetch a higher price on the black market. Again this is due to the Prius being a standard vehicle, and also due to many older vehicles requiring catalytic converter replacements.
Experts say that more skilled thieves can remove the Prius catalytic converter within 60 to 90 seconds. Many of these thievings occur at night, in both public lots and on cars parked in the streets. The incidents from Sonoma also took place at night.
The catalytic converter remains a popular item amongst car thieves because it is a hard crime for police to follow. Police spokesperson Paul Doroshov commented on this during investigations in the city of Davis: “Even if we find someone with a trunk full of parts, trying to track them down to the victim is very challenging because there is no tracking”.
Once catalytic converters are taken from modern vehicles, they are rendered undrivable. The vehicle becomes illegal to operate, and the emissions control system may cause codes to come up.
Vehicles operating with no catalytic converter will have several apparent symptoms. The exhaust sound will become extremely loud and harsh, and the smell of tailpipe emissions will become much stronger.
Information on these particular thefts at Sonoma is limited at the moment. As far as we know, there is no camera footage of the thievings, or cameras present in the lots to capture potential future crimes.
Campus police sent an email to all students with helpful hints on how to avoid becoming a victim of this theft. “Drivers can make their vehicles less attractive to thieves by parking in well-lit areas, parking close to main thoroughfares, and, to reduce predictability, park in different locations on campus”. If you experience any of the vehicle symptoms listed above or suspect that your vehicle may have been the subject of thieving, contact campus police immediately.