Gas theft may cost you more than a tank

May 4, 2011 8:26:00 PM PDT
With gasoline selling at sky-high prices, it becomes a target for thieves. So how can you protect yourself from a crime of the times?

When I first started looking into it, I was thinking in terms of gasoline being stolen, but soon it became apparent there was more at stake than just a tank of gas.

The gas crimes are hitting all over the country. Thieves have figured out siphoning gas is worth their time. A spot check of local police departments only turned up a couple of reports, but one automotive man is hearing a lot about it.

"We see an increase of fuel theft in throughout Danville, throughout the whole Contra Costa area as fuel prices rise," said "Bear" Matoza, owner of the Danville Automotive and Hardware store.

Customers are coming to the store to buy locking gas caps. Sales have doubled. Locking caps protect more than gasoline, they protect the car because siphoning can do some major damage.

"The harm it does to a car with a hose going into the fuel tank, you can't get the hose out. There is a one-way valve. So once you push it in, now you have to have a mechanic come remove the hose," said Matoza.

Body shops are picking up some business too because it isn't just the inside of the gas tank that can be damaged, but also the outside of the car.

"I live in the city, so I was walking to my car, put my lap top in the trunk and that's when I noticed that someone was trying to break in," said Kai Kuusik from San Francisco.

The gas cap door on Kuusik's car won't stay closed and there is a dent caused by the thief prying his way in.

"I just saw the estimate which is $1,600, which is even more depressing," said Kuusik.

It's a lot of money for such a small criminal take, but Autobahn Collision Center's Alex Astts says there's a lot of work to be done.

When asked if people were going to be shocked to hear a high figure for a repair, Astts said, "Yes and they get mad. They think I am trying to rip them off, but it is actually the damage to the car that makes the estimate. It isn't me writing the estimate. It is actually the damage that is caused by that person."

Astts says, so far he's only seen a couple of cars damaged with siphoning, but with gas prices going up, he's expecting more in the future, which brings us back to prevention.

"As things get worse, we are going to these locking gas caps. Once you lock this gas cap, they can't spin this gas cap out, as the bottom just spins freely," said Matoza.

Depending on the car, a locking gas cap goes from as little as $15 to as much as $50.

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