Prius Converter Anti-theft Update

Prius catalyst interuptus

No slowdown in theft yet

The thieves are still plying their trade and we’re still seeing 1 -5 per per day. A person or two is arrested here and there. A man was crushed to death in Berkeley. Still, the problem continues.

The good news is that we’re now seeing a lot of the cars that we’ve installed our anti-theft cables on come back, with the converters still under the car. Why would we see them again if the converter isn’t stolen? Well, thieves aren’t the brightest, and they often don’t notice the anti-theft until after they’ve done some damage. They may cut the O2 sensor wires, cut the pipe, and unbolt flanges, but when they try to remove the converter, they find they can’t.

The O2 sensor wiring on this converter was cut. The sensor is a $184 part, and removing the connector under the passenger side carpet takes a bit of time. However, we can repair the wires to avoid replacing the sensor, saving some money.

Unfortunately the wires in the O2 sensor pigtail are marine-grade nickel plated stranded wire, which is hard to solder, even with flux.

Crimp connectors work just as well, but standard insulated crimp connectors will let water in and even with marine grade wire, water and salt isn’t great for connections, so we’ll need to seal these up.

Double wall heat shrink tubing forms a watertight seal and will protect the connectors from the elements.

If a thief tries to cut the O2 sensor wires again, he’s in for a surprise. We’ve zip-tied a piece of hardened cable along side the wires. The wires may still be damaged, but his side cutters will be damaged as well. And if this is his first step, maybe he’ll realize the converter won’t be coming off very easily.

Some flexible conduit will help protect the wires from abrasion and hide our little surprise. Orange is the color code for high voltage, maybe that’ll deter some of the more knowledgeable dirtbags, probably not many of those though. Perhaps just the fact that it looks different will give them pause. One can only hope.

We’re Staying Open During The Coronavirus Outbreak

We consider the work we do essential; it’s very hard to get around in the bay area without a car and public transportation isn’t the most attractive option right now.

We’ll be here to keep you rolling unless any of us get sick. If any of us test positive, we’ll be shutting down to protect our other employees and customers.

We’ve always had sanitizer dispensers in our office on both sides of the customer counter. The office is a place where people touch the same phones, pens, PIN pads, etc., and it and we’re doing our best to minimize the risk to both our customers and our employees with regular wipe-downs.

If you’re feeling ill, immune compromised, or have other underlying health issues, it’s probably best to stay home to ride this one out. Please stay safe. Everyone at Art’s wishes you and those you care about the best.

Stolen Catalytic Converter

cutting through braided cable
Braided steel cable requires a cutting wheel to get through, making it an effective catalytic converter theft deterrent

Catalytic converter theft comes in waves, affecting various types of vehicles at random. Unlucky victims will start their engines and hear a loud, “motorcycle-like” vroom from their cars. Or, you may have heard coworkers or neighbors complain nearly as loudly about experiencing a stolen catalytic converter themselves! It’s even in the Bay Area news:

So why is this happening?
This is an interesting question with sociopolitical intersections beyond the scope of this article. For our purposes, catalytic converter theft occurs because the catalyst material is valuable recycling, and on many vehicles it is quick and easy to remove the catalytic converter. Once removed, the stolen converter is taken to an auto dismantler (junk yard), or a recycling center who pays cash for the scrap. Each catalyst is valued dependent upon the density of rare earth materials, but a thief can expect to fence a stolen cat for a few hundred dollars. The Toyota Prius catalytic converter is worth more due to the PZEV (partial zero emissions vehicle) classification that requires more efficient catalyst performance.

Google search trends for stolen catalytic converter
Google search trends for stolen catalytic converters peak during times of economic trouble.

How are they stealing my catalytic converter?
Thieves will use a battery-powered saw to cut through the exhaust piping and escape after only a few minutes. In their haste, they cut through oxygen sensor wiring, exhaust hangers, and other exhaust pipes forward and/or behind the catalytic converter.

Reciprocating saw for sale on Amazon
The SawzAll is a handy tool for cutting through pipes at any angle. Just like those on your car’s exhaust before and after the catalytic converter!

For lower clearance vehicles like the Toyota Prius, they will use a floor jack — typically used to change tires — to quickly hoist the car up for better access. Catalytic converter theft is common on some vehicles like the Honda Element and Toyota Tacoma due to sufficient clearance and access to the converter without a floor jack.
While the stolen converter itself is costly to replace, the collateral damage caused can double the repair estimate! We find that most customers invoke their comprehensive insurance coverage to pay for the stolen catalytic converter and extra damage.

What is the solution to stolen catalytic converters?
There is no way to guarantee total theft prevention for anything in this world. However, you can increase the theft deterrence factor significantly. If your catalytic converter is harder to steal, then the thief will look elsewhere.

Prius catalytic converter with braided steel cable welded
By welding a length of braided steel cable on either side of the catalytic converter, we can defeat the reciprocating saw blade method of theft.

At Art’s Automotive, we can provide catalytic converter theft prevention measures by appointment. The reciprocating saw blade cannot cut through and will become dull when attempting to sever braided steel cable. We weld this heavy gauge braided cabling to either side of the exhaust piping surrounding the catalytic converter. While it may complicate legitimate repairs in the future, it will certainly deter most catalytic converter thieves!

braided steel cable being cut through
What if you had to replace your catalytic converter or do exhaust work in the future? In a legitimate setting, the converter can still be removed with some additional labor

Give us a call to inquire about catalytic converter theft prevention measures here in Berkeley! 510-540-7093

Holiday hours

Hello everyone!

The shop will be closed for the holidays starting 12/24, and through 1/1. We re-open on 1/2 (Wednesday). You can use the contact form on the website here to send an email during the break; we will be checking periodically.

Thanks, and Happy New Year!

R-1234YF Service in Berkeley

The new environmentally friendly refrigerant R-1234YF is finally here and we’re one first in the East Bay to in invest in the equipment to repair these systems! If your A/C performance isn’t up to par, give us a call. 510-540-7093 or click here for more information

Site redesign

As a result of a software update, our website formatting broke. We had been thinking about a site redesign, so here we are! Because this design was in its prototype stage, there are some imperfections.

Thank you for understanding!

Do It Yourself A/C Service

If you found this post looking for information about how you can service your car’s A/C system by yourself, you’ve come to the wrong place… or maybe not. I’m writing this for two reasons. First to convince people to stop using the DIY A/C service cans from the auto parts store and second in the hope that a legislator or regulator or even a perhaps even some auto parts stores to see this and do something to stop the sale of refrigerant to untrained people.

Let’s start with why you as a vehicle owner shouldn’t service your own system. Now, in case you’re thinking that I’m just trying to talk you out of servicing your own system out of love for the environment or love of my own wallet, that’s not it, or at least they aren’t the only reasons.

Reason 1:
Almost all DIY A/C can have “stop leak” in them. Why would that be bad? After all, nobody wants to have a leaky A/C system right? As Art often says, here’s the thing… Stop leak is a compound that turns into gummy, sticky, goop when it come in contact with the moisture in our atmosphere. That’s how it stops the leak — it leaks out of the hole in the completely dry hermetically sealed A/C system, comes in contact with the moist air outside, and turns into a sticky mess and slows the leak.

Why is this bad? Well, when a competent mechanic services an A/C system, he vacuums the system for 15 to 45 minutes. The low pressure causes water to boil at ambient temperatures and the water is sucked from the system with the vacuum pump. When a weekend warrior uses a DIY can, there is no vacuum pump and there will likely be moisture in the system. “But isn’t the system hermetically sealed? How would moisture get in there?” If the system is empty, there at least a small leak. Refrigerant is leaking out and air is leaking in.

Why is having a sticky gummy substance in the A/C system bad? It causes compressor failure, sticking expansion valves, and clogs the receiver-drier (desiccant and filter assembly). It also clogs the $150 filter in our A/C machine. We once had a compressor fail on the same vehicle 3 times. On the third failure we sent the compressor to Denso with a letter complaining about the quality. They disassembled the compressor and created a cause-of-failure report with pictures. (You can see the report here if you’re interested¬†471-1630 Analysis report Arts Auto –¬†). The short story is that there was stop-leak in the system and it ruined multiple compressors.

Reason 2:

“Hey! I found a DIY can with no stop leak so I’m good to go now!” Nope. There are still issues. You won’t create a $1500 repair when you only needed a $250 service, but the system isn’t likely to perform as well as it should. There is usually some air in the system when a car comes in for service. It’s not uncommon to find a system with 40 PSI of pressure but no refrigerant at all. Honestly I don’t know how the system get air pressure beyond atmospheric pressure. If you know, please email and let me know. Anyway, to remove the air you need to pull a vacuum with the A/C machine. If you don’t, the A/C system won’t operate as well as it could. Also, any moisture in the system won’t be removed and moisture in the system can cause expansion valve freezing which can cause the A/C to stop working entirely intermittently.

OK. Now let’s talk about the environment.

In order to purchase refrigerant as technicians, we need to provide proof that we are certified to handle the refrigerant or the vendors won’t sell to us. For some strange reason regular people can walk into an O’Rileys and buy a can of refrigerant with sealant and a hose to connect it to the car without an A/C machine. It makes no sense, yet that’s the way it is.

Why shouldn’t person without certification be able to buy refrigerant? Because it’s very bad for the atmosphere. Even if the refrigerant purchased is “environmentally friendly”, the refrigerant in the car isn’t. Here’s a call we recently received:

Customer — “How much for a compressor?”
Art’s — “Why do you think you need a compressor?”
Customer — “I connected the can to the car and the gauge said the system was full, so I removed the schrader valve to empty the system so I could recharge the system and then the A/C still didn’t work”

So a guy without a clue how the A/C system works and no A/C equipment dumped a full system into the atmosphere for no reason at all. Not only does this damage the environment, he risked burning or blinding himself by pulling the valve with a full system. Now he wants to replace a part at random. That’s not a good way to save money!

Why does the government allow TV commercials enticing people to “save money by fixing their own air conditioning” and allow distributors to sell refrigerant to anyone who wants it? On the other hand, shops with mechanics trained in air conditioning repair can be fined and/or lose their BAR license if they service an A/C system without an RRR station and a refrigerant identifier on site. I’m not against regulation, especially when it comes to things that cause environmental damage, but why a crazy loophole if someone’s fixing their own car?

Rant over.