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Gas Theft: How to Detect It and Protect Your Fuel Tank

Rising gas prices have emboldened fuel pirates. Here's how to keep your vehicle safe.

Chris Paukert Former executive editor / Cars
Following stints in TV news production and as a record company publicist, Chris spent most of his career in automotive publishing. Mentored by Automobile Magazine founder David E. Davis Jr., Paukert succeeded Davis as editor-in-chief of Winding Road, a pioneering e-mag, before serving as Autoblog's executive editor from 2008 to 2015. Chris is a Webby and Telly award-winning video producer and has served on the jury of the North American Car and Truck of the Year awards. He joined the CNET team in 2015, bringing a small cache of odd, underappreciated cars with him.
Chris Paukert
2 min read

It's something that's been happening nearly as long as there have been autos and gas stations. As gas prices rise, so does fuel theft.

The national average for a gallon of gasoline is well over $4, raising the profit potential for gas thieves. Poachers across the US have been hard at work finding creative ways to liberate fossil fuel from vehicles and gas stations alike.
In Kansas City, thieves reportedly are drilling directly into gas tanks to bypass the anti-rollover valves that prevent siphoning on newer vehicles. In Houston, miscreants in a minivan with a special trap door reportedly stole around 1,000 gallons of diesel directly from the tanks at a gas station over several days.

While no gas or diesel vehicle is theft-proof, there are a number of simple steps you can take to protect yourself against fuel filching.

How to protect your vehicle from fuel theft

1. If possible, park in an enclosed (preferably private) garage.
2. If you have to use a public garage, park in a well-lit, highly trafficked area, e.g. near the entrance or exit, or near a stairwell.
3. If you park in a driveway, park as close to your house as possible, ideally in a well-lit area.
4. If your car has an alarm, arm it whenever you leave your vehicle.
5. If you park on the street, orient your vehicle so that its fuel door is positioned into the street.
6. Try to avoid leaving your car parked in one place for extended periods of time -- consider rideshare services or public transportation instead of leaving your car at the airport, for instance.
7. Most modern cars have locking fuel doors and/or gas caps -- if yours doesn't, buy one -- they're available for $15 to $25 from most auto parts stores and online retailers like Amazon.
8. Consider going electric with your next vehicle purchase -- EVs are essentially immune to power theft.

gas pump
Enlarge Image
gas pump

The national average price for a gallon of gas has risen to $4.32 according to AAA.

Dangubic/Getty Images

Signs of fuel theft 

1. Odor of gas or diesel near your vehicle
2. Fuel puddled underneath your vehicle
3. Fuel gauge is noticeably lower
4. Vehicle fails to start

What to do if you're a victim of fuel theft

1. File a police report immediately.
2. Contact your insurance agent.
3. Have your vehicle taken to a dealer or service shop for repairs.

How long will this surge in fuel theft last? It's hard to say, but with the AAA announcing Monday that the price of crude oil has dropped below $110 per barrel, gas and diesel prices could stabilize or decrease soon, lowering the incentive for gas thievery. (A barrel of crude rose to just over $123 shortly after Russia's invasion of Ukraine.) Simultaneously, the Energy Information Administration noted a slight rise in demand over the same period, which could send prices north again.

Watch this: Will you recognize the gas station of the future?