A theft became the last straw for a couple leaving San Francisco for good

(AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File)

There were more that 150,000 catalytic converter thefts in 2022, a 2% increase from the previous year. The number one model targeted for these thefts in the US is the Toyota Prius. There’s a reason for that.


The critical piece of automobile tech is used to filter out harmful byproducts from your car’s exhaust. They use precious metals like platinum, palladium and rhodium to accomplish this. Those metals can sell for hundreds to thousands of dollars per ounce.

A catalytic converter can be sold for anywhere from $25 to $300 for an average vehicle, Carfax says, and up to $1,400 for hybrid vehicles.

Catalytic converters in hybrids tend to have more precious metals than the standard vehicle, which is why hybrids are some of the most-targeted vehicles for catalytic converter thefts. The most targeted vehicle for these thefts in California is the most popular hybrid on the road: the Toyota Prius.

Yesterday, the San Francisco Chronicle‘s Heather Knight wrote a story about a couple who became a victim of this particular crime. Alison Gerken and Amanda Arguile met at work and were married in 2019. Gerken graduated from UC Davis and got a job as a vet but the couple traveled to Florida for her three year residency. And the whole while they were thinking about how eager they were to return to San Francisco. But when they did, they were quickly reminded what a disaster the city has become.

The story began Nov. 7, a month after Gerken, a veterinarian with the San Francisco SPCA, finally paid off her gray 2013 Toyota Prius, celebrating with champagne. But the fizzy feelings evaporated that morning when she went to move the car, parked on Rhode Island and 22nd Streets near her Potrero Hill home, for street cleaning.

She noticed a piece of metal with wires coming out of it on the ground next to her car and when she turned on the vehicle, she said, “it sounded like a jet engine.”


Her catalytic converter had been stolen. She wasn’t sure about driving the car and ran back to her house to file a police report online. When she returned to the car she had a ticket. No matter, she figured it would be waived when she explained what happened. But no, they didn’t drop it because she failed to provide a full copy of the police report. She could have fought the $87 ticket but decided to just pay it.

Meanwhile, there are so many Prius’s missing catalytic converters in the Bay Area that there’s a six month waiting list for parts and repairs. And the cost of the replacement would have been several thousand dollars even then. Still, Gerken added herself to the dealership’s long list of people waiting for a new catalytic converter.

Meanwhile, what do you do with a car you can’t drive? She tried leaving it on the street and just moving it on street sweeping days but slowly the noisy car died and she wound up with a number of additional tickets. She was advised to find storage parking for the car until it could be repaired but the cost of a space was several hundred dollars a month. A few weeks ago she gave up and sold the car for significantly less than it was worth prior to the theft. It was the last straw but not the only straw.


“We couldn’t wait to leave Florida,” Gerken said. “But coming back, it was this abrupt holy s—. This is bad. We kind of forgot what it was like.”

The streets seem dirtier, they said, and open-air drug dealing seems more prevalent with cops just passing by. They see bodies sprawled on the street and wonder if they should stop to make sure the person is OK. Usually, Gerken said, she keeps walking, but feels awful about it.

The couple has had enough. They’re leaving San Francisco for good but still not sure where they’ll go next. It’ll be somewhere where living is more affordable with fewer major problems which, if you think about it, could be just about anywhere.

Update: CNN reporter just posted this a few hours ago.


She was there to cover “rampant street crime.”

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