Older Prius vehicles such as this 2004 model are currently a hot target for thieves due to their catalytic converters, which contain more precious metals than the average vehicle. - Photo courtesy of Toyota.

Older Prius vehicles such as this 2004 model are currently a hot target for thieves due to their catalytic converters, which contain more precious metals than the average vehicle.

Photo courtesy of Toyota.

Due to the precious metals contained in its catalytic converter, theft claim frequency for 2004-09 Toyota Prius models was a staggering 40 times higher in 2020 than in 2016, according to a recent analysis by the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI).

Catalytic converter thefts have been on the rise nationwide, increasing from approximately 100 a month in 2018 to more than 1,200 a month in 2020. That’s because thieves can now command higher prices from recyclers for platinum, rhodium, palladium, and other metals found in the components.

Prices for the metals have soared due to lower mining production in recent years, a trend that was exacerbated by the pandemic.

Currently, Prius is being targeted because catalytic converters of hybrids need more of the precious metals to work properly because they don’t get as hot as those installed on conventional vehicles, since the combustion engines of hybrids only run part of the time. In other words, Prius models offer thieves a bigger bounty of precious metals.

The HLDI report provides some specific data that Prius fleet owners should know about.

For starters, the spike in claim frequency is noteworthy. Theft claim frequency was 58.1 claims per 1,000 insured vehicle years for 2004–09 Toyota Prius models in 2020, compared with 1.4 claims in 2016. Overall theft losses for those Prius vehicles in 2020 were nearly $137 per insured vehicle year — a more than 45-fold increase from $3 in 2016. By contrast, theft claim frequency for all other 2004-09 vehicles hardly changed from 2016 to 2020, and overall losses remained about $7. 

The report also explores pricing. Catalytic converters from older Prius models are pulling in a pretty penny — and thieves seem to know it and are capitalizing on the trend.

For instance, the recent scrap price for the GD3+EA6 catalytic converter used in the 2004-09 second-generation Prius 1.5 was a whopping $1,022, according to marketplace website AutoCatalystMarket.com, while the scrap price for the GP1+TB1 converter used in the 2010-15 third-generation Prius was $548.

Now compare those numbers to the converter used in General Motors models such as the Chevrolet Impala and Pontiac Grand Am from 1999-2006. They were valued at $269, and the converter used in the 2007 Ford F-150 FX4 was priced at just $143.

The bottom line: When it comes to selling catalytic converters to recyclers who reprocess them, Prius models that are more than 10-years old fetch top dollar compared to newer Prius models and virtually any other vehicles on the market.

Catalytic converter crime is not going away anytime soon. In 2018, there were 1,298 catalytic converter thefts reported that rose to 3,389 reported thefts in 2019. In 2020, reported catalytic converter thefts jumped massively to 14,433, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau.

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