Fill 'er up, then lock up; gas thieves on the prowl
Dale Fortin is getting a new kind of customer at his Detroit auto-repair shop: customers who need their gas tanks replaced. The soaring price of...
The Associated Press
Protect your tank
Experts say there's no surefire way to ward off thieves thirsting for your pricey gas but offer these tips:
Park your vehicle in a garage, attended parking lot or in a lighted area.
Vary your parking routine.
Source: The Associated Press
DETROIT — Dale Fortin is getting a new kind of customer at his Detroit auto-repair shop: customers who need their gas tanks replaced.
The soaring price of crude oil has turned gas tanks into valuable booty, and Fortin has replaced several tanks punctured or drilled by thieves thirsting for the nearly $4-a-gallon-and-rising fuel inside.
"That's the new fad," said the co-owner of Dearborn Auto Tech in Detroit. "I'd never seen it before gas got up this high."
While gas-station drive-offs and siphoning are far more common methods of stealing gas, reports of tank and line puncturing are starting to trickle into police departments and repair shops across the country.
Tuesday, the average price of a gallon of unleaded gasoline was $4.027 in Washington state and $4.044 in the Seattle-Bellevue-Everett area, according to AAA.
Given their height, Fortin said pickup trucks and sport-utility vehicles are more vulnerable to the thieves who puncture the tanks and use a container to catch the fuel.
Plastic tanks are typically the target, he said, since there is less chance of a catastrophic spark, and they are easier to drill into.
A design change may be contributing to the preference for a drill rather than a siphoning hose. The tanks in many vehicles now have check balls, which prevent spills in a rollover accident. They also make siphoning more difficult.
In recent weeks, police in Denver arrested two suspects in connection with about a dozen cases of damaging tanks and stealing gas.
Denver Police Det. John White sees this "new way of siphoning gas" as a bigger problem.
"What made this particular method so dangerous and concerning for us was the way in which they were doing it: using cordless drills to puncture holes in these tanks," he said. "The heat, friction generated could have easily sparked a fire."
At least one insurance company has taken notice: AAA Mid-Atlantic issued a news release this month that cited a case in April in Bethesda, Md., involving a thief who broke the fuel line underneath a car and took 5 gallons of gas. Montgomery County police said a bus in the same parking lot had 30 gallons of diesel stolen.
The cost of replacing a metal tank on passenger vehicles is between $300 and $400, and the plastic tank common on newer vehicles would be at least $500.
Gas and diesel aren't the only fuels being plundered. Restaurants from Berkeley, Calif., to Sedgwick, Kan., are reporting thefts of old cooking oil worth thousands of dollars. Cooking-oil rustlers refine it into barrels of biofuel in backyard stills.
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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