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Vehicle battery thefts are on the rise
Thieves after lead as price for the metal goes up
Tire technician Kareem Harris removes a battery from a vehicle Wednesday at the Tire Barn in Gainesville. Car battery thefts have been on the rise lately. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

Cell phones, jewelry, TVs, tools and computers are all common stolen items, but car batteries may be sneaking into that category.

"We have been seeing a fair number of battery thefts," said Sgt. Stephen Wilbanks of the Hall County Sheriff's Office. "It's been pretty sporadic."

Wilbanks said the majority of battery thefts occur with farming equipment or a property containing multiple older vehicles.

"People know they can get in there and get the batteries out of them that way," he said.

Older model vehicles are often targeted because, unlike newer models, many don't have hood releases and therefore allow for easy access to parts under the hood.

Thieves are typically after the lead found inside vehicle batteries.

The price of lead has increased several cents within the past year. As of Tuesday the price of lead stood at about $1.06 per pound — an increase of about 8 cents from the same time a year ago.

Lead prices peaked around March, with prices at more than $1.30 per pound.

"(Lead prices) are up a little right now, but lead fluctuates so quickly that next week it may be down," said Rodney Smith, manager of Batteries Plus on Dawsonville Highway in Gainesville.

Increases in lead prices also increase the price of car batteries and therefore thieves could resort to targeting batteries in hopes to make a profit.

"With all the metals going to China, I'm sure that's what has driven the market, but the thieves have gotten wind of that price increase and they're seeing this as another source for revenue." Wilbanks said.

Around the time lead prices peaked in March, car battery prices increased as well based on price increases from two of the largest lead-acid battery manufacturers - Exide and East Penn.

Smith said Batteries Plus will only accept used batteries as a swap.

"It's pretty much a Batteries Plus policy, unless it's an established customer who is a used car dealer and they're wanting to get rid of some old batteries, then we typically are not going to take anything like that," Smith said.

He said it is company policy not to purchase multiple batteries from customers to avoid receiving stolen property.

"One, that defeats the purpose of our program with our supplier and the second thing is that avoids any questionable activity where somebody may have gotten those out of a used car lot," Smith said.

One precaution owners can take is to install a hood latch lock that requires a key to open.

Wilbanks said the biggest precaution owners can take is to avoid parking in remote areas.

"Standard precautions about property security apply to anything, but if you have it sitting out in a barn or pasture somewhere out of sight from your home and you don't see it on a regular basis, it's pretty vulnerable," Wilbanks said.