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Thieves may again be targeting one of your hybrid car’s most valuable parts

Marjory Kaplan

California is hybrid country, so thieves looking to purloin a battery pack worth big money have an almost endless supply of cars to choose from. Battery thefts in the Golden State spiked in 2015, sending Toyota Prius owners on a frantic search for indoor parking, and a recent report suggests they’re on the rise again.

San Francisco resident Marjory Kaplan told local news station ABC7 that thieves stole the battery pack from her 2017 Prius while it was parked on the street, about a block from her apartment, in August 2019. The pack isn’t easily accessible. It’s sandwiched between the chassis and the rear seats, so seeing it — let alone removing it — requires taking a good deal of the interior apart. It’s normally a hazardous job best left to a professional. Kaplan was shocked by what she saw (pictured above).

“You know, you go looking for your car and you know what your car looks like. It didn’t look like my car. It looked like a jalopy car. It looked different. It looked disheveled,” she said in an interview with ABC7. “They took the seat out, cut all the wires, and removed the battery, which I understand weighs 180 pounds,” she added.

The battery pack is made with valuable materials, so it’s one of the most expensive parts of a hybrid car like the Prius, and even a used one is worth a significant amount of money — sometimes over $1,000. It can be sold to someone who needs to replace theirs, or some thieves choose to take them to the nearest scrap metal recycling yard and weigh them in. Regardless, getting a battery-less Prius back on the road can cost up to $10,000, especially if the high-voltage wires are cut rather than carefully moved out of the way.

Can a Prius run without its battery? In theory, yes; it would operate like a normal car powered exclusively by gasoline. In application, no; the the various onboard sensors and computers go berserk if they detect a key part of the drivetrain is missing, and normally prevent the car from starting.

Time will tell if this is an isolated incident, or if thieves looking to make a quick, easy buck are again targeting batteries. Hybrid owners will need to keep a closer eye on their cars if the thefts begin happening on a regular basis, but there is no need to panic.

Electric car owners have less to worry about. While the battery of, say, an Audi E-Tron is worth considerably more than the one in a Prius, it’s about the size of a two-person mattress and it weighs nearly 1,600 pounds, so removing it is a time-consuming process that requires — at the very least — a good deal of special tools and a sturdy lift.

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Ronan Glon
Ronan Glon is an American automotive and tech journalist based in southern France. As a long-time contributor to Digital…
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