Smart car tipping: Prank or social class rebellion?

Smart car tipping: Police are searching for a group of eight who have been tipping smart cars in San Francisco. Is this simply vandalism or a social protest against rising rents and cost of living in the city?

Authorities in San Francisco on Tuesday were looking for suspects who flipped four Smart cars.

The small two-seat cars were flipped on their sides or roofs in an apparent vandalism spree Monday in two San Francisco neighborhoods.

Police said they didn't know whether the incidents were a prank or another episode in escalating tensions among some residents who blame the tech industry for rising rents and cost of living.

"It's hard to determine a motive without any suspects identified or in custody," said Officer Gordon Shyy, a police spokesman who said the culprits would face felony vandalism charges.

The first car was found flipped on its roof around 1 a.m., and a second was spotted on its side a couple of blocks away about 10 minutes later in the city's Bernal Heights neighborhood, said Shyy.

Police then discovered a third Smart car flipped on its trunk around 1:30 a.m. in the Portola neighborhood. A fourth car was found flipped on its side shortly after 9 a.m., also in Bernal Heights.

The lightweight cars all had shattered windows and some body damage, Shyy said, adding that police were looking for multiple people wearing black hooded sweatshirts who were in the area at the time of the destruction.

Reuters reports that witnesses told police a group of six to eight people dressed in black hooded sweatshirts gathered around and tipped over at least one car in Bernal Heights, an upscale and family-oriented neighborhood, San Francisco police officer Gordon Shyy said.

So-called "Smart tipping" became an issue several years ago in Canada and Amsterdam, where pranksters would lift the two-seaters and plop them onto their sides or dump them into canals over a series of months in 2009, auto blogs and other media reported at the time.

Smart cars, made by a division of German auto manufacturer Daimler AG, are more than three feet (one meter) shorter than a Mini Cooper and almost five feet shorter than a Volkswagon Beetle with little cargo space.

As she waited patiently for an insurance adjuster, Shelley Gallivan stood Monday afternoon near the fourth Smart car that was vandalized, a small white compact with a faded "Obama-Biden" bumper sticker. Gallivan was watching the car for her friend, Wendy Orner, who lives in Cincinnati and had a baby nearly two months ago.

The car was left to Orner by her 70-year-old father, who died in January. Gallivan said she found out the car was damaged when a neighbor texted a picture.

Orner said Monday that she still plans to sell the car when she's in San Francisco for her father's memorial in June.

"He was proud that at age 70 he was driving it around. He felt real progressive in it," Orner said. "Although, I don't know if anyone wants to buy a Smart car now after what happened."

Gallivan said she moved the car from in front of her house to a nearby corner — despite her husband's reservations — to allow a bigger car to move into the space.

She hopes the vandalism isn't the start of a new trend.

"It's a bummer. I'm sure hoping it's just a prank and not those who are trying to make a bigger statement in regards to the gentrification in the city," Gallivan said.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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