Gas Thieves Are Drilling Into Vehicle Tanks

Perhaps you thought an old-fashioned siphon was the only way to steal gasoline from a vehicle, but thieves have other ways of accessing your gas tank. Heidi Perkins of Waxahachie, TX. spent $90 filling up her Dodge pickup. Yet, only a few days later her gauge was reading below empty, according to the Star-Telegram. She went to the gas station to refill and noticed the gasoline escaping from a freshly drilled hole in her gas tank. More, inside…

Many fuel tanks are equipped with rollover valves designed to cut off the flow of fuel when the vehicle rolls over. These valves, which are actually just small balls in the tank’s neck, have the added effect of blocking any siphoning tubes entering the tank. This has forced some thieves into cutting into the tank itself. Tommy Westerman, a mechanic at Westerly Automotive in west Fort Worth said, “I had a young lady who drives a little Cavalier, and someone had used a drill to make a hole in the tank. For a new tank and labor it was about $400. It does damage.”

Not all gasoline thieves are drilling tank holes. Some are cutting into the fuel filler tube which on some cars, runs along the underside of the vehicle. In these cases, trucks and SUVs are the popular targets since they sit higher off the ground.

Until auto-makers start designing vehicles to resist gasoline theft, authorities preach basic vehicle safety measures. Park in well-lit garages or driveways instead of the street. You can also install motion-sensitive security lights which could deter some would-be thieves. In addition, report any suspicious persons or activity occurring in parking lots. What tips do you have to help prevent the theft of gasoline from vehicles?


Gasoline thieves adopt a new drill
[Star-Telegram]
(Photo: Getty)

Comments

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  1. Norcross says:

    I can’t wait for the first idiot to do this and literally blow themselves up. I wonder if my car insurance covers explosion by ignorance?

  2. Bladefist says:

    @Norcross: Ya. I’m curious how they drill into the tank without making any sparks

  3. @Norcross: No, they’ll probably call you liable and sue you.

  4. Jones91 says:

    Anyone who steals gas deserves to be shot on the spot, I’m 16 and on my first car, i can barely afford a tank of gas every couple of weeks and god help me if i come up on someone stealing gas from my tank, I’m going to jail because Mr. Crowbar in my trunk is going to say hi.

  5. Come live in the back ass of beyond with me. We’re friendly folk who all know each other and would never steal gas from your tank. Just all the copper wiring from your air conditioner. And, depending on current architectural and decor trends, possible the sides of your barn for “salvage wood.” Seriously. There’s a black market in it.

  6. SgtBeavis says:

    Both our cars are parked in the garage at night. They tend to stay there most of the day too since I telecommute..

    Other than that I’ve got a Texas CHL and I’m using it. It would be pretty stupid for a thief to get shot over a tank of gas.

  7. @Jones91: I feel for you. When I was 16, a scant 12 years ago, I was driving a 1985 Toyota Land Cruiser. Of course, gas was $1.50 a gallon, but still…I only got 9-10 MPG and had a 22-gallon tank.

    My current ’08 GTI is much nicer, to say the least.

  8. Preyfar says:

    That’s just a shame… and really, an all time new low to save a few dollars on gas. What are you going to save, $15 to $60? Depending on the person’s tank at the time…

    Seriously. All time new low.

  9. @Bladefist: Believe it or not drilling into a full fuel tank is actually quite safe, as liquid gasoline is not readily ignited. When the tank in nearly empty of liquid (therefore nearly full of vapors) is when the fun starts.

  10. MPHinPgh says:

    You could always rig up some explosives like that scene in “Mad Max”. Word gets out about an incident or two, people will probably start to think twice (though thieves, as a group, are pretty stupid).

    BTW, don’t do this if you lease the car. The charges when you return the vehicle could be…excessive.

  11. @MPHinPgh: I’ll have to re-read my lease agreement, but I think mine covers homemade explosives placed the lessee.

  12. Ben Popken says:

    @MPHinPgh: Or a little bear trap mounted on the gas tank.

  13. @SgtBeavis: “It would be pretty stupid for a thief to get shot over a tank of gas.”

    As I’m always telling my students, people don’t go into lives of crime because they’re SMART. Go spend a morning listening to arraignments and you will realize that a) 99% of criminals aren’t smart enough to break into your house unless the door’s unlocked, which is comforting, but b) 99% of criminals aren’t smart enough to do a simple risk/reward analysis and realize stolen gas isn’t worth getting shot in the face, which is not comforting.

  14. tricknick says:

    @Nocross: Its EXTREMELY difficult to “blow up” gasoline.

  15. smalleyxb122 says:

    I can’t imagine how bad it is near my old house right now. I came out to find my gas cap lying on the ground several times back when gas first hit $2.00.

    Happy to live in a better area, now.

    I’d almost want to make it easy for the thieves, just to avoid as much collateral damage as possible. Perhaps if your tank had a drain installed, they wouldn’t destroy a $400 tank to get at $40 worth of fuel.

    Then again, I’ve had thieves break a $100 window to get a $20 stereo…when the door was UNLOCKED.

    Alright, I’m on board. Let’s shoot a few gas thieves. The rest will think twice.

  16. bohemian says:

    @Eyebrows McGee: There is this misperception that if you live in the midwest and not in some huge city there is less crime. Nope, just fewer over all incidents because there are fewer people per square feet. Chicago has a lower violent crime ranking that the place I live based on incident per 1000 people.

  17. Graverobber says:

    I can’t wait for someone to try this on my car, the tank’s empty! Ha, that’ll show ‘em.3

  18. mzs says:

    I’ve worked on some old cars and they actually had drains in the gas tank like oil pans do today. For example a ’57 Chevy has such a drain. It made sense because there are a number of scenarios where you should drain the tank before removing it during repair/scrap. Back then gas was so cheap nobody would steal it. Now a days the simplest option is to run the tank dry.

  19. strangeffect says:

    @silencedotcom: And then they’ll be laughed out of court.

  20. smalleyxb122 says:

    @strangeffect: And then they’ll be laughed out of court.

    You’d like to think so, but precedence tells a different story.

  21. barty says:

    @Bladefist: Plastic fuel tanks are the biggest reason why. Steel fuel tanks have largely gone the way of the Dodo over the past 15-20 years to help lighten vehicles. Also, plastic doesn’t corrode, leading to clogged up fuel pump strainers and the pumps themselves.

    As mentioned before, liquid gasoline is actually very hard to burn. Its the vapor you have to worry about.

  22. surgesilk says:

    Gasoline is very hard to ignite. The vapor is what actually combusts. Drilling into the bottom of the tank and into the liquid, while not someting I would want to do, has a low risk of explosion.

  23. dotcomrade says:

    “Self-Service takes on a new meaning with this spike in Gasoline theft”

    CBS Evening News video on this topic:

  24. Tickthokk says:

    I’ve always heard that when a car explodes it’s because of the battery. While the gas will burn, the fire will heat the battery, and we’ve all seen warnings on Double A’s about not putting them in fire :)

  25. nsv says:

    Do we have to publicize morons like this and give other morons ideas? While I’m all for a national IQ test to see who blows themselves up, I’d rather they didn’t do it with my car.

  26. synergy says:

    @Preyfar: More like $100. I know co-workers of my husband who have to gas up that much or more to fill the tanks of their trucks and SUVs.

  27. Evil-Jeremy says:

    How about we reduce the incentive to steal gas by dropping the price down below a dollar a litre (which is still twice as much as it should be.)

  28. conformco says:

    I’m just waiting for the stories of people renting Zipcars for 30 minutes, driving them to the gas station, filling them up with the provided (free) gas card, then stopping by their house to siphon into their own car before returning.

  29. Imaginary_Friend says:

    Good luck trying to steal my gas. I’ve coated the underside of my car with tasty, delicious honey and the tank is filled with killer bees. Yes, BEES!

  30. escapenguin says:

    @Jones91: Ha… When I was that young I remember spending almost all the money I made driving to work on gas… to drive to work. I wouldn’t have been able to afford it if gas costs now what it cost back then.

  31. Trai_Dep says:

    @Norcross: Ditto. I read the headline and thought, “Darwin Award!”
    Shucks. Maybe next time, a winner?

  32. spinachdip says:

    @conformco: I never thought about that. But considering you have to punch in the odometer reading and they know exactly how much you’re buying, you might be able to get away with it once, they’d catch on fairly quick if there was a pattern, I think.

  33. buyer5 says:

    If you get some brass drill bits or a brass punch your gas tank drilling endevors will be spark free!!!

  34. Dakine says:

    I keep a 5 gallon can of gas in the bed of my pickup truck. If someone is looking for easy gas, they’ll likely take that and run before going to the trouble of drilling my tank.

    Give the people what they want.

  35. Dakine says:

    by the way, gas out here is $5.11 a gallon as of yesterday.

  36. Solo_Racer says:

    @Bladefist: Drilling mild steel doesn’t create sparks. Then there are the newer, plastic gas tanks.

  37. Wormfather says:

    This is nothing, you’ve got gas theives, pulling up to a gas station in proper uniforms with gas trucks, the addendant thinks they’re filling up the stations tanks when in all acuality they’re sucking them dry. BOOM! $150K gone.

  38. Dakine says:

    @Wormfather:

    that is ridiculous on so many levels.

  39. Tmoney02 says:

    @MPHinPgh:

    The thieves doing this are the same ones steeling copper wiring. There are reports all the time of a thief getting electrocuted to death while stealing copper from wires or around wires, and yet, it hasn’t put a dent in the crimes.

  40. Tmoney02 says:

    @Wormfather:

    Around here in DC we had some thieves break into a fuel distributor, hot wire two tankers, fill them up and leave. Pretty bold, and makes me wonder how large an operation was required. Just two dedicated guys? or a team/gang?
    2 Tankers Stolen news link

  41. libbybee says:

    After having gas stolen from my extremely old car three times in the last month, I’ve stopped filling up past 1/4 of a tank. It means I stop at the gas station every few days (I don’t drive a whole lot), but it also means the next time someone tries to steal gas from my car, they risk killing themselves in the process and I get a new car, which would far outweigh the negatives of a dead thief and the loss of $20 worth of gas.

  42. The Great Aussie Evil says:

    My tip for thetop: WALK.

  43. What is everyone’s opinion on the idea of a locking gas cap? Worth it, or no?

  44. Shannon says:

    Good luck stealing gas from me, My tank is always on E

  45. Neath says:

    Outside of putting a skid plate under the arse end of whatever you happen top drive to protect the bottom of the tank, I really don’t have any anti theft suggestions.
    I do have a fun little revenge idea though. This would work far better on an econo box than on a real car. Install a smaller fuel cell in the trunk or under the hood to use as a gas tank. Leave the existing gas tank in place and fill it about half way with sewage. Then, the next bastard that sticks a hose in your gas tank and takes a big suck…… or even if he happens to be laying under the tank drilling into it and gets a face full…….

  46. The_AntiVirus says:

    @Jones91:

    Shot on the spot? Don’t you think that is a little too much??? How about have their hands run over 3 times for every gallon of gas stolen???

  47. textilesdiva says:

    I suppose there’s an upside to being so broke you can only put $15 of gas in your car between shifts…

  48. sharki3232 says:

    Here in Norfolk gas is only $3.85 in some places!

  49. draketrumpet says:

    I always keep less than 2 gallons in my vehicle. Of course, it helps that it gets 104 MPG!!!!

  50. GearheadGeek says:

    @The_AntiVirus: No, I don’t think shooting a thief in the process of damaging your car and stealing your gasoline is too much at all. People are perfectly safe from me as long as they’re not doing stupid crap like drilling into my gas tank in my driveway or breaking into my house. If they have no more innate sense of the social contract than is required to realize you’re not supposed to do such things, they need to be blown right out of the gene pool.

    I don’t wander around the streets armed looking to mete out vigilante justice, but I’ll be damned if I’ll sit quietly and allow someone to steal from me in person. It’s bad enough that the Chimpanzee in Chief has been throwing away our tax money for 8 years, I definitely want to keep what I still have in my possession.

  51. Snakeophelia says:

    When I first moved to Philadelphia from SC, I was freaked out to see the number of people who had makeshift padlocks for their gas tanks and clubs for their steering wheels. It hadn’t occurred to me that I’d need either one of those.

    I live in a blue-collar neighborhood and drive a four-year-old SUV, so I just hope I don’t look like I make enough money to fill my tank up. All the stickers on the back from when I visited Australia probably aren’t helping, though. Guess I should slap a “I support the NRA” sticker on there as well.

  52. aka Cat says:

    @Neath: How about a gas tank with a false bottom? You’d probably have to reduce the usable volume of the tank by ~10%, but it would be soooo worth it.

    Bonus points if you have a camera rigged to go off if/when the level of biological substance contained in the false bottom drops.

  53. Elvisisdead says:

    @The_AntiVirus: Not in Texas – it’s a defense of property state. You catch someone stealing or vandalizing – fire away. It’s almost your duty – they expect it. You’re actually helping them get the real experience of being a thief.

    For the locking gas cap, it makes sense only as a method to irritate someone looking to steal gas from your car. It may make them move on to the next car (problem solved), but it won’t keep a determined thief from getting the gas. Same concept as a Club or a blinking red light on the dash. Doesn’t have to work – just has to look like more of a hassle than the next car.

  54. redkamel says:

    whats wrong with a nice, thick piece of metal over the bottom of the pan? I doubt thief has tools/time to drill through like 2-3 inches (or more if manufacturers changed the orientation the tank so the base was smaller). The daring could even put some electric current through there while insulating the gas in thick plastic. Touch your drill bit/finger to complete the circuit….

    FWIW my four year old cousin recommends spikes on the bottom of your car

  55. catnapped says:

    @Dakine: Couldn’t you just fill the gas can with water and put a cup of gasoline in it (just so it still smells like gasoline)? Probably cheaper than losing the whole 5 gallons of gas and the thief wouldn’t know the difference (until it’s too late)

  56. Difdi says:

    Install a thin layer of plastic over the outside of the filler tube and gas tank. Fill the gap between it and the tank with unmixed (separated) liquid epoxy. If someone drills into the tank with a bucket below to catch the gas as it drains out, the epoxy will mix together with itself and the gas, and what results is more like plastic goo than gasoline. If they put it in their car before it solidifies, they’ll be needing a new engine, since theirs will seize into a solid mass.

  57. The_AntiVirus says:

    @GearheadGeek:

    I just personally though it was too much but they do need some sense knocked into them and if thats the way to do it…FIRE AWAY!!!!

    @Elvisisdead:

    I don’t think I ever heard of that but it does make sense when it comes to protecting your property.

    @Difdi:

    Thats a great idea that should stop those pesky crooks from stealing my gas.

    Go ahead and steal my gas but its only fair to warn you, your gonna need a new engine.

  58. TheresAPartyInMyPants says:

    Yeah, that’s the same way folks steal cars…almost. Except they drill into the battery to deactivate the alarm. Or used to. As for some sort of defense against this, just hope they screw up and end up a burnt marshmallow. I see guys steal gas and cases of Dew from the gas islands all the time. There are cameras out there though. May have seen this in a movie or something…guy gets his car stolen, pulls out a remote, flips a switch, and blew it (and them) to atoms.

  59. TheresAPartyInMyPants says:

    I know how to scare the crap out of em. Scotch tape an employment application over the gas cap door.

  60. TheresAPartyInMyPants says:

    God, for the days I drove my ’66 GTO in ’72 and gas was 26.9! You could fill up for under five – with ethyl.

  61. AustinTXProgrammer says:

    @Jones91: Move to Texas, and hope they do it at night! You can legally use deadly force to stop theft at night, if you believe your life would be in immediate danger any other way (You are scared they will use the drill or crowbar as a deadly weapon).

    Of course if it ever happens to me, I’ll be going to jail if they find this post.

  62. narf says:

    - Locking gas cap helps. As noted, it’s not going to stop a determined one, but it does make it a harder target for those using the hose method.

    - Skid plate helps. Additional layer = more hassle = move onto an easier target.

    - Lower the car so it’s harder to reach underneath = move onto an easier target.

    - Random rusty metal shards (call them “spare brackets”) protruding below the sides of the tank = a good opportunity to cut them. At the least, some blood. At the best, a Darwin award … since they’re cheap enough to steal your gas, they prolly wouldn’t pay for a tetanus shot either.

  63. flipx says:

    This is why the trunk monkey (Google it videos) will be the next big thing in car security.

  64. GearheadGeek says:

    @The_AntiVirus: Texas (where I live) is indeed a state in which protection of your property with deadly force is allowed AT NIGHT. After dark, it’s not necessary to justify your actions by saying you felt personally threatened, they were just trying to steal your car / russle your cattle / whatever and you plugged ‘em.

    There are many, many imperfect things about this state in which I was born and have lived much of my life, but the homestead protections in many aspects of our laws are NOT among those imperfections. You can’t take my homestead even if you win a judgment against me, and you can’t break into my home without the risk of deadly force being used against you. I’m not a libertarian whack-job either (though many of my attitudes may qualify as libertarian, official libertarians go WAY too far with the no-government thing) and you’re perfectly safe from me if you’re not crawling in one of my windows or trying to steal the gas from my car.

  65. GearheadGeek says:

    @GearheadGeek: Let me add by saying that, in general, someone breaking into your home at night OR in daylight is viewed as a threatening act and you’re likely to get away with shooting them in Texas. The “at night” thing applies to protection of your personal property on your property but outside your residence.

    Friends from the Northeast have some problems with this attitude. I just can’t think of any valid excuse for someone to break into my house, and as long as they’re not breaking in, I’m not shooting, so everyone is fine.

  66. fuchikoma says:

    Wow…

    My bike has a locking gas cap, but being a bike, you could drill it, or just cut the fuel line directly. Like most motorcyclists though, if I caught someone doing that I… can’t legally say what the outcome would be. ;)

  67. Wormfather says:

    Getting a new gas tank is at least $400,

    $40 > the person who ruined my car’s life.

    No that wasnt a typo.

  68. The_AntiVirus says:

    @GearheadGeek:

    I too am from texas but I seriously never heard of that law but hey, you got to do whatever it takes to protect yourself.

  69. JohnMc says:

    I find a Czech CZ 75B 9mm is most effective at stopping gas thieves in their tracks.

  70. MPHinPgh says:

    @Tmoney02: There are reports all the time of a thief getting electrocuted to death while stealing copper from wires or around wires, and yet, it hasn’t put a dent in the crimes.

    Perhaps, but doesn’t them getting electrocuted make you feel just a _little bit_ better?

  71. @GearheadGeek:

    I wish we had laws like that here in NY. From what I’ve heard the law here is your supposed to leave your house and call the cops if someone breaks in. You can only shoot them if they have you trapped or something like that

  72. forgottenpassword says:

    I have a locking gas cap & a skid plate around my gas tank… of course they could just drill thru the unprotected side. *shrug*

    I feel sorry for the RV owners. They have LARGE gas tanks & are often targeted by gas thieves. ANd a locking gas cap wont stop a determined thief.

    My favorite newsstory of gas theft was where someone converted a trailer into a makeshift gas tanker, built a trapdoor in the bottom, hooked it up to a truck & pulled in over the underground tank ports at a gas station & transfered the fuel out. In broad daylight! LOL!

    I await the stories of “road warrior”-stye tanker hijackings.

  73. lestat730 says:

    What tips do I have, honestly I don’t worry about things like this. If it happens, that sucks but what are the chances of it happening in the first place? Until I personally know several people who have experienced this in my area, I’m not putting any thought into doing anything except parking in open public areas whenever possible like I always do.

  74. Poisonthescene says:

    Thank goodness my gas tank is above my muffler and completely inaccessible from the ground.

  75. Mike the Dog says:

    @JohnMc: A Walther P-38 works good too. It makes a nice loud ‘click’ when you pull the hammer back (totally unnecessary as it is a double-action that’s safe to carry with one in the pipe), the perp will usually shit himself when he recognizes the noise…

  76. catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

    from the article – she definitely had a plastic gas tank:

    “She was right: Someone drilled a hole in the truck’s plastic gas tank and drained it.”

  77. Nick_Bentley says:

    Short of having your dog sleep by the front door and motion sensing lights in the driveway there’s not much else you can do if it’s parked outside all night. Even insurance isn’t going to help much on a repair like that since the lowest deductible is typically $500.

  78. QuasarErazar says:

    Seriously does 400$ for a new tank sound crazy expensive?
    And why a ‘new’ tank?
    And if its a small enough hole, can’t you just put some jbweld into the hole?

  79. mike says:

    @Jones91: In the majority of states, shooting someone to protect property is not a justifiable reason. The only state I can think of that this is not the case is Texas.

    I WISH this was the case in Virginia.

  80. kilrathi says:

    @linus: [en.wikipedia.org]

    You’d be surprised.

  81. Breach says:

    @QuasarErazar:

    That actually sounds pretty cheap, factory parts are always overpriced, then throw some labor hours into that to replace it.

    Gah, sounds like we all need to have our gas lines covered with conduit. The Mad Max apocalypse begins…

  82. trujunglist says:

    I was in rural Colorado 2 weeks ago and apparently gas stealing is a huge problem out there.
    I was talking to the local rep in the town of about… 300 people? and she said that I’d better make sure my stuff was hidden, even in the hotel room. I was like why? and she said that since I wasn’t from around there, anything I have is fair game. I asked her if that was fairly common and she said no, the only thing the locals will steal from other locals is wiring and gas. Seemed strange for a town where every store closed by 8pm!

  83. JayDeEm says:

    @QuasarErazar: And if its a small enough hole, can’t you just put some jbweld into the hole?

    What about Mighty Putty? The man who yells at me from TV says it will stop leaks. :)

  84. ThomasD3 says:

    while unrelated, some idiots stole 4 plants from my front lawn a few days ago… how stupid and low will they go. I wish now I could put a trap on the others.

    if people are so pathetic they will steal plants, I can totally imagine gas…