Berkeley police warn drivers following uptick in catalytic converter thefts

Berkeley police have a warning tonight about thieves stealing catalytic converters from vehicles. 

They say there has been 18 incidents in the span of ten days. 

Police say thieves struck 3 Priuses along the 1600 block of Bonita Avenue in North Berkeley all during the early hours of one morning. 

One victim tells KTVU thieves stole catalytic converters from three Priuses in North Berkeley.

One belongs to Elana Auerbach. 

She now parks her Prius in her driveway behind a gate.  

She says she used to park on the street until her catalytic converter was stolen less than two weeks ago.  

"Turned on the car and it sounded like a jet engine," said Auerbach,"It sounded like it was about to explode."

Robert Perkins, the co-owner of Model Garage, an auto repair shop in Berkeley, showed KTVU how loud a Prius runs without a catalytic converter.

He says the owner of a Prius brought it in Monday after its catalytic converter was also stolen.

"I suspect the person who stole this knew what they were doing and knew what they were going after," said Perkins. 

Berkeley police shared a video with KTVU  that shows how quickly thieves can remove a catalytic converter. It only took about 30 seconds not including the time it took to jack up the car. 

"It's fairly common. It happens all the time," said Perkins about catalytic converter thefts. 

Auerbach's Prius says the same morning her catalytic converter was stolen, her friend who was spending the night and a neighbor also had theirs stolen from their Priuses.

"They're lighter. A person can use a floor jack like you see in the back of your car to change a tire, lift the car up and use a saw to cut it off quickly," said Officer Byron White with Berkeley Police. 

He says thieves melt down the converters which are made of metals including platinum and sell them to scrap yards.

"They can roughly get $100, $200. They're doing it for quick cash," said Officer White.  

He says in the past, thieves tended to steal catalytic converters from vehicles that sit higher, so they didn't need a jack. 

Now, there have been 18 incidents in the span of ten days.

Police are advising people to park in their garages if possible, install motion detection lights in driveways or park in well-lit areas.

"I feel grateful that we have a driveway. I can close the gate. That will hopefully deter this from happening," said Auerbach. 

The cost to replace a catalytic converter is expensive.

Perkins, the Suto repair shop owner, says it can cost as much as $3,000 for the part and labor for a Prius.

Police are asking anyone who sees someone working underneath a car in the middle of the night with a power saw, to report it immediately.