Couple waits a full year for parts to replace Prius' stolen catalytic converter

ByRenee Koury KGO logo
Saturday, July 22, 2023
Couple waits full year for parts to replace stolen catalytic converter
The expense of replacing a stolen catalytic converter is bad enough, but victims are finding the lengthy wait times for a replacement can be worse.

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- Thieves continue to prowl Bay Area streets in the night, stealing catalytic converters. It's bad enough if yours is stolen but worse -- they are expensive to replace if you can find one. An East Bay couple waited a whole year as their car sat idle the entire time.

Their Toyota Prius was in mint condition one day, then totally disabled the next. Their dealer told them driving it would damage the engine, but, "Sorry, there's no parts." They tried just about everything to get the car running again.

Every day for nearly a year, Joan O'Henley gazed at her shiny blue Toyota Prius parked in front of the house. It was perfect.

"I just felt sad when I looked out the window and saw, you know how perfect it was," she said. "Except unusable. So it just made me feel really sad."

MORE: Etching catalytic converters? Here's one Bay Area city's possible solution to thefts

Joan hadn't driven the car since last July, when she started the engine one morning and it made an ear splitting noise.

"Neil heard it, and he said, 'What was that,' and I said, 'I didn't do anything. I just started the car,'" she said.

Joan and her husband quickly realized thieves had cut the catalytic converter off their car -- the same crime that hit friends, neighbors and thousands of drivers across the country.

Now new converters can be hard to find.

MORE: DOJ announces takedown of nationwide multi-million dollar catalytic converter theft ring

"They told us they thought it would take a month to two months to get the parts," Neil O'Henley said.

But summer turned to fall, and still no converter.

"They basically told us, there's a huge backlog. Huge. One number was 20,000," Neil said.

They contacted Toyota headquarters in Texas. The company kept promising a new part, but also kept delaying estimated delivery.

MORE: New California laws make it harder to steal and sell catalytic converters

"They said November, then they said January, then they said March, then June..." he said.

Meanwhile, the couple bought a new car.

They considered selling the Prius minus the converter.

Someone suggested scrapping it for parts.

MORE: Oakland family mourns father shot, killed trying to stop catalytic converter theft

They even thought of towing it to Nevada which has looser regulations.

All the while, the car sat idle.

Neil kept charging the battery by dropping an extension cord out a window.

"I didn't want to leave a wire laying on the ground, so I just put it out the second story window and strung it through a tree," he said.

MORE: SoCal homeowner awakens to catalytic converter theft in progress, fatally stabs suspect

Around them, thieves kept stealing converters.

"I woke up when I heard a sawing sound. And I rolled down the shade and they saw me and they basically-" Neil said.

"They flashed a spotlight in his face and I said, 'Neil, just get down,'" Joan said.

Thieves saw the Prius and tried to steal their converter again! Of course it wasn't there.

MORE: Help is on the way for 78-year-old Fremont contractor whose tools were stolen

"And they're very very quiet, they had like a Tesla or something... no lights, no sound, no engine..." Neil said. "At least we didn't get shot."

They'd just heard about an Oakland man who was shot and killed while trying to stop a theft.

"I was angry with thieves. How come the police and the state, you know, they can't stop this? They know they can sell these for the precious metals," he said.

The couple also complained to Toyota -- saying the company was putting new converters into new cars before replacing stolen ones.

MORE: 78-year-old Fremont contractor unable to support his family after work tools stolen

"It's like, oh, let's sell some more new hybrids," Joan said.

They contacted 7 On Your Side, and we asked Toyota about this crisis.

In a statement, the company said, in part, "Toyota recognizes the impact these thefts and wait-times have on our customers."

The statement said Toyota's supplier has nearly tripled its production capacity since April, which should reduce the backlog.

MORE: New federal law cracks down on online sale of stolen items. Will it help San Francisco?

But after nearly one year of waiting, Joan and Neil got the good news.

"'We have a catalytic converter for you...' it was surreal," Joan said.

The Prius is back on the road.

"So now I feel very satisfied. Except we're worried... it's gonna get stolen again," Joan said.

A spot check by 7 on your side found three Bay Area Toyota dealers telling us they had converters in stock -- most others had wait times up to one year. But it's kind of hit and miss, they don't have many and they go fast.

Take a look at more stories and videos by Michael Finney and 7 On Your Side.

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