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While Priuses are exceptionally fuel-efficient vehicles, an easy-to-steal part has made being a Prius owner a risk for people in the Los Angeles area. A recent wave of thefts has targeted catalytic converters, which can be procured easily from under Priuses and some other vehicle models.
It’s a costly situation for drivers, who often have to pay between $1,500 and $5,000 to replace the part. This year, the California state legislature responded with two new catalytic converter laws that help to ensure sellers are the verifiable owners of the part. While these laws will help the situation, the West Hollywood Sheriff’s Station is going a step further with a catalytic converter etching event on March 4 from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. at the red building at the Pacific Design Center, 8687 Melrose Ave.
“The event that Saturday is important to make sure people who may or may not be at risk for theft of catalytic conversion can further protect themselves,” Mayor Pro Tempore John Erickson said. “Additionally, as we have heard from a number of residents and businesses, this issue is a growing concern. I’m really thankful to the sheriff’s department for their response as well as their proactive look ahead to make sure that people can remain safe in their cars.”
For Prius owners like Emily Redenbach, events like this one are a welcome step in the right direction. Recently, Redenbach dealt with her own catalytic converter theft.
“I was parked on the street outside the house I was sitting for – that dog is lucky she’s so damn cute – and when I tried to drive off one morning, there was a scraping of metal, and then my engine sounded like it was going to explode,” Redenbach said. “I immediately turned the car off and saw there was something hanging from the undercarriage of my car and a red fluid leaking. I called for roadside assistance and when the first truck got there, he knew immediately that it was the catalytic converter. He’d towed a bunch of cars with the same problem. So, I had to call my insurance and have a second tow truck come out under a vandalism claim rather than roadside assistance. About 20 minutes before the second tow truck got there, the shop State Farm had arranged [for me] called to say it was a 3-6 month waiting list for catalytic converters, so don’t bring the car in.”
She knew that she couldn’t just leave her car on the street and wait, so she went out of her State Farm insurance network and found someone who would fix it with something that wasn’t “technically a catalytic converter.”
“I didn’t understand the mechanic jargon – I am not a car person. But from what I understood it’s like choosing between buying Louboutins or Nine West. They’re both shoes. They’ll get you to and from places, but one is designer and one isn’t. I didn’t care. I needed a car. Hello, this is L.A. I had to wait for State Farm to approve the quote since the shop wasn’t one of their pre-approved ones, and that took about a week to get an appointment,” she said.
Redenbach added that the mechanic welded on a catalytic converter cage, as well, for a cost of $250. She advised any owners of cars at risk to do the same.
“Two hundred and fifty dollars is a small price to pay to prevent dealing with all this mess,” she added.
The city of West Hollywood has also issued recommendations to help deter theft, including installing a catalytic converter anti-theft device such as a cage or steel plates. They also recommend parking in secure garages or in well-lit areas; if parking in a driveway, installing motion sensor lights and security cameras; in public garages and lots, parking near the entrance; installing an alarm, either for the whole car or just for the catalytic converter; engraving the car’s vehicle identification number and phone number on the catalytic converter, which can help law enforcement track and identify the stolen part; spray-painting the catalytic converter with high-temperature automotive paint, which can alert scrap recyclers to look for VIN etchings; and reporting any theft to law enforcement and insurance companies.
“The West Hollywood Sheriff’s Station COPPS Team and Entertainment Policing Team have conducted operations to address this crime and have conducted operations partnering with TRAP, [which is] a multi-agency taskforce that [addresses] vehicle related crimes throughout Los Angeles County,” West Hollywood Sheriff’s Station Capt. William Moulder said.
For information about the free drop-in etching event, contact the West Hollywood Sheriff’s Station at (310)855-8850.
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