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Toyota Offering “Cat Shield” For The Prius, Proving That Hybrids Are A Bad Buy in 2022

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For many people, the T0yota Prius is still an ideal option in 2022, at least on the surface. If you’re one of those people who’s afraid of getting an EV, but you’re also not a fan of high gas prices (like we saw this year in all of their dark glory), a hybrid seems like a logical option. Or, better yet, a plugin hybrid can even act like an EV around town while giving you the convenience of gassing up on road trips.

Plus, you can get other Toyota models, like the popular Rav4, either as a hybrid or as a plugin hybrid, so you’re not stuck with a hatchback, either.

But, hybrids like the Prius and Rav4 Prime have an increasingly bad weakness: the cost of cleaning up the nasty stuff that comes out of the tailpipe. Catalytic converters convert really nasty things like nitrous oxides, carbon monoxide, and nitrogen dioxides into less nasty pollutants. This doesn’t solve all of the problems associated with ICE engines (CO2 still contributes to climate change), but it at least helps cut back on smog and cancer-causing pollutants.

But, the physics behind catalytic converters don’t really favor hybrids. That’s because catalytic converters can’t just blow exhaust gases through a honeycomb-shaped filter of precious metals. The metals must be hot, ideally hundreds of degrees above ambient temperature, to work their best. Normally, this isn’t a problem, because ICE engines run continuously and keep the exhaust hot, but hybrids turn their engines on and off at the right times to minimize fuel use, which means the exhaust gets a chance to cool down.

So, the manufacturers of hybrids and plugin hybrids have to make catalytic converters far bigger to give them a chance to clean up the exhaust and meet federal and state emissions standards. Because their converters are so much bigger, they also contain a lot more of the precious metals that attract thieves, basically painting a big bullseye on the back of every hybrid car.

Anti-Theft Measures

Obviously, paying hundreds or thousands of dollars over and over every time a thief wants to steal from you isn’t a great solution. Some people have had this happen to them several times, making transportation completely unaffordable for them. So, desperate times call for desperate measures.

One hokey anti-theft technique I’ve seen online is an attempt to shame thieves, or frighten them into thinking they won’t get away with selling the converter. The dumbest “boomer” answer is to just paint “get a job” on the converter, because that’ll somehow stop thieves. Smarter people will etch a serial number into the converter and stencil on the name of the local police department so that would-be thieves know the converter is registered (which hurts the chances of selling it to a fence).

Placing physical obstacles in the way of thieves is another popular measure. Normally, an experienced thief can raise the car, hack the exhaust tubing, and get away in under a minute, which makes getting caught a lot less likely. So, just putting some cables or metal plating in the way discourages them not by making it impossible to remove the cat, but by making it impossible to remove the cat quickly.

The key behind any of these measures is that thieves would rather move on to a less risky and more lucrative target.

Toyota Knows Cat Theft Is A Big Problem For Hybrids

For Toyota, this is a serious problem. People looking to save money on gas or even convert all of their local driving to electric are obviously pinching pennies, and probably don’t want to spring for an EV (even if that’s bad math). Plus, even when customers are smart and want to go ahead and go with an EV, Toyota doesn’t have much to sell them.

So, fear of buying a hybrid is something Toyota has to address if they want to keep getting sales.

One way they’re fixing this is to offer a catalytic converter shield from MillerCAT from the dealer. Right on the Prius “build and buy” tool, you can pay an extra $140 for the shield (plus installation at your local dealer). This product adds a layer of metal between would-be thieves and their target, making it a lot more risky for the thief. This means that right from the beginning, you can protect the car from cat theft. It even has weird heads on the screws to make life hard for thieves who may be tempted to just remove it with a drill.

The Problem: Yet Another Layer Of Complexity

While spending an extra $140 to keep the convenience of gas and a familiar automotive experience might seem sensible to people who are afraid to buy an EV, it’s important to keep in mind that this is just the latest layer of complexity that has been added to gas-powered cars to keep them viable.

Going back decades, most automotive engines didn’t have any electronic controls, and when that started to happen, it was only very rudimentary controls (like ignition timing). This worked OK, but oil crises and rising prices in the 1970s combined with increasing environmental regulations made for some pretty lousy compromises. For American manufacturers, the cars got slower, uglier, and less reliable as things like smog pumps, low compression engines, and unleaded fuel became the norm quicker than automakers could adapt. This period is known as the Malaise Era.

The solution to much of this was electronic fuel injection, with car reliability and horsepower figures climbing again in the 1980s. Better materials science and engineering allowed the cars to get less ugly again, and reliability (other than occasional electrical issues) recovered in the 1980s and 90s. Overhead cams eventually became the norm, followed by variable valve timing, multiport injection, direct injection, and coil-on-plug ignition. Computer controls also got a lot more sophisticated in the 2000s and 2010s.

Efficiency continued to improve with the renewed use of the Atkinson Cycle (variable valve timing helped a lot here), computer controlled hybrids, lean burn cycles that didn’t pollute more, more transmission speeds, dual clutch transmissions, and the revival of turbocharging. Some cars do almost all of the above!

But, this all came at a cost, even if the cars generally got better. Not only are failures an increased risk, but the cars just got a lot more expensive both to buy and maintain with all of these extra parts. It happened a little at a time over decades, so we didn’t really notice it, but there’s no such thing as a free lunch.

While the cost of batteries is still keeping EVs more expensive, that’s becoming less and less of a problem. Companies like GM are offering increasingly affordable EVs that more than beat new gas cars on overall cost of operation. As the used market grows, this will become even more favorable. Ultimately the much simpler technology of an electric vehicle is going to make it difficult for increasingly complex ICE vehicles to compete as they nickel and dime themselves to death.

Featured image: a screenshot from Toyota’s website.

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Written By

Jennifer Sensiba is a long time efficient vehicle enthusiast, writer, and photographer. She grew up around a transmission shop, and has been experimenting with vehicle efficiency since she was 16 and drove a Pontiac Fiero. She likes to get off the beaten path in her "Bolt EAV" and any other EVs she can get behind the wheel or handlebars of with her wife and kids. You can find her on Twitter here, Facebook here, and YouTube here.


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