Hybrid battery thefts have become an issue in one part of New York City, as 14 batteries have been stolen from Toyota Camry Hybrid cars in one Queens neighborhood in the past 3 months according to CBS News. Almost all the cars were being used as taxis at the time.
When air bags first appeared in cars, air bag thefts were common, primarily because new air bags cost $1,000 or more new. Thieves sold their ill gotten booty to unscrupulous auto repair shops for a few hundred dollars. The shops got to charge customers or insurance companies $1000 to replace a deployed air bag, claiming it was new and pocketing the difference.
A new battery for a Camry Hybrid can cost as much as $4,400 to replace and has a service life of approximately 150,000 miles. Taxis pile on a lot of miles each year, so replacing batteries can become expensive. Is it possible that some taxi fleet operators are paying criminals to steal hybrid batteries? After all, you can’t very well advertise them on Craigslist. Or perhaps the fleet owners are paying people to steal the batteries for them so they can get their insurance company to foot the bill for nice new batteries to replace the old worn out ones. Or maybe some crafty criminals simply located an low-risk, high-value target in the form of these batteries. It’s much easier to hide a battery pack than an entire car, after all
People are very creative when it comes to making a few bucks in a down economy. Many cities are replacing iron manhole covers with reinforced plastic units because thieves can sell the 200 pound iron covers to scrap dealers for a few dollars. Scavengers frequently break into vacant homes and strip all the copper pipes and wiring out of them to sell for scrap, too.
Whoever the thieves are, they must have specialized knowledge of the cars they are stealing the batteries from. The Toyota hybrid system operates on 233 volts, so coming in contact with the power leads could have some nasty consequences for the unwary.