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Authorities are reporting a sharp increase in Toyota Prius break-ins as a wave of battery thefts hits California.
Many of these thefts are centered around San Francisco and Sacramento, and so far the Prius has been listed as the hybrid targeted most often. Used Prius batteries, some possibly obtained illegally, have been listed on sites like Craigslist for around $1,000.
“It’s not entirely clear what could have spurred the ‘frenzy’ in stealing the batteries of the Prius,” noted Tech Times. “Some have speculated that there is a growing demand for the battery because owners of the first generation Prius have come to the end of the line with their 10-year battery warranties.”
The 150-pound nickel-metal hydride battery pack powering the Prius is easier to access and carry than other electrified vehicles. The lithium-ion batteries for the Tesla Model S, in comparison, are best accessed from underneath the car, and weigh closer to 1,000 pounds.
Even so, taking a Prius battery is a complex task that requires an understanding of the car’s electrical system. One wrong cut and the thief could be electrocuted with up to 200 volts.
A mechanic’s background isn’t necessarily required, though. Online videos are available showing how to safely remove a battery from several hybrid models, including the Prius. It’s estimated that it takes about 20 minutes for thieves to remove the battery.
The Bay area’s Luscious Garage, an auto shop that specializes in hybrids, noted these thefts back in January. A representative showed how thieves took the pack from a Gen 3 Prius.
“They’ve broken the window here on the passenger window. They have cut the body harness; they have cut the main HV [high voltage] frame wire harness. Four 12-millimeter bolts later, this battery’s gone,” said the spokesperson.
She estimated that to replace the broken window, damaged wiring and missing battery will cost between $5,000 and $9,000, depending on the extent of the damage and if replacement parts are new or used.
“As an anti-theft measure we can replace the 12 mm bolts with tamper-proof ones and shield the harnesses with sheet metal. If it slows thieves down, that’s enough,” said Luscious Garage.