Your Personal Vehicle: New target for inventive thieves?

By Lee Bellinger / November 12, 2013
As the cost of commodities continue in their inflation-driven and resource-crunch bull market have steadily risen sharply, full-size pickup trucks, SUVs, delivery vans, and even farm equipment have become prime targets for common criminals.
Gas  Thieves
Today’s thieves, however, are NOT limited to “old fashioned” auto theft of sporty cars with high resale value. Instead, they now especially target large vehicles using a siphon tube and an empty gas tank! The 5-10 minutes it takes them to drain each 33-gallon tank can yield $125 or more in pilfered fuel. A thief draining just 4 tanks per night can clear $2,000 in a 5-day “work week.”
I anticipate there will be more types of theft like this,” says Todd Nehls, sheriff of Dodge County, Wisconsin. “Either siphoning from other people’s equipment or siphoning from other people’s tanks.”
In this economy, boring and common commodities are highly prized by thieves. Along with gasoline and diesel, criminals are after your tires, and especially the precious metals (such as platinum and palladium) found in your catalytic converter. These “small” auto thefts are easier to get away with, and the thieves avoid the harsh penalties associated with grand theft auto.
Fortunately, there are a number of common sense and high-tech methods to protect your vehicles from these expensive and time-wasting thefts.

Gasoline Thefts
Are Becoming More Aggressive

One story reports:
“Employees of a Honolulu-based Meals on Wheels charity came to work to find that the gas tanks of two delivery vans had been emptied over the weekend… The fuel lines of both vehicles had been cut and the gas drained out.”
Trucks, SUVs, and other large vehicles are popular targets, not only because they tend to carry large fuel tanks with plenty of gas to steal, but because the bottoms of these vehicles sit high above the ground, which gives crooks ample room to scoot underneath with tools and either cut fuel lines or drill holes into the gas tank and run off with the fuel.
A thief can drill a hole in the gas tank and steal $125 in gasoline from an SUV, but leave the owner with over $1,500 in repair bills and lost time to fix the damage.
Fire is also a concern when a thief breaks into the fuel system. A single spark, or even static electricity, could potential ignite the fumes and set the car on fire. If the theft happens on the owner’s driveway, the victims’ home and even their lives could be at risk.

How to Stop Gasoline Thieves
from Draining You Dry

You should consider investing… in a good-quality locking gas cap,” says Sergeant Dave Bursten of the Indiana State Police. The good news is many car models already come with locking gas caps as a standard feature.

Gasoline  Lock
After-market locking fuel caps are inexpensive, about $10 to $20, and are found in any auto parts store or auto parts aisle in a department store like Walmart. For better safety, fuel economy, and emissions control, make sure to buy one that fits securely to the make and model of your vehicle.
  • Park your vehicle in a closed and locked garage;
  • Park where there is enough vehicle or foot traffic to deter thieves;
  • Install lights and motion detectors in the parking area;
  • And as a last resort you can add an undercarriage-perimeter alarm to your vehicle(s). With this type of alarm installed, if someone tries to crawl beneath your car, the alarm will sound off.

There’s BIG Money
in Chrome and Rubber, Too

Thefts of tires 20 inches and larger have become a relatively common occurrence in the Bakersfield [California] area. There are no serial numbers on tires, making it difficult to track them down and return them to their rightful owners,” says Sergeant Greg Jehle. “The entire wheel is taken during a theft.” An experienced and well muscled thief can remove a wheel silently in a matter of seconds, using nothing more than hand tools.
This theft doesn’t only happen in California. It’s a growing problem across the U.S. In Virginia, for instance, thieves are stealing wheels in broad daylight from Railway Express commuter parking lots while owners are away at work.
The local news reports: “A Virginia Railway Express (VRE) spokesperson says police are doing a good job maintaining a presence but can’t be there all the time.”
Based on security camera recordings, authorities know tire thieves work in teams. One person acts as the look out, while one or two others jack up the car, remove the wheels, and roll them away – an entire set of wheels in less than 10 minutes!
Custom rims and chrome wheels can retail for $1,400 or over $5,000 for an entire set, not even counting the value of tires. As with gasoline theft, large trucks are more popular because their big tires fetch a higher price than small commuter car tires and can actually be easier to work on.

How to Stop Tire and Rim Thieves
from Driving Away with Your Wheels

  • Locking lug nuts are an inexpensive and simple deterrent. You can find them in any auto-parts store and cost less than $20. Removing a locking lug nut requires a special adapter key.
One tip: use two locking lug nuts per wheel. Crooks have learned to remove all the standard nuts first, and then pry the wheel off the remaining locking nut. This damages and breaks the stud, leaving you with an additional repair bill along with needing to replace all your tires and rims!
  • Consider a motion sensor car alarm;
  • If you own custom-made wheels, ask your insurance agent if you can get additional coverage for them;
  • Consider sticking with standard run-of-the-mill tires. Larger or high-end tires can invite theft.

Mining Precious Metals
from Your Dirty Catalytic Converter

Catalytic Converter
It has gotten to the point where everyone knows someone who has had their catalytic converter removed illegally from their vehicle,” says California Senator Ron Calderon, who wrote a bill mandating that recyclers document each converter brought in and sold for scrap.
Catalytic converter and metal theft is so prevalent, the scrap metal industry has its own scrap theft alert website (http://www.scraptheftalert.com/) that covers Canada and the U.S.
The catalytic converter is a federally mandated component of your vehicle’s exhaust system. The material inside it often includes platinum, palladium, or other rare metals. Stolen “cats” can fetch $50 to $300 at scrap yards, but can cost you $3,000 to replace. Possibly more, if the thief damages your vehicle while stealing it.
As with the thefts mentioned above, trucks, SUVs, and other high-clearance vehicles are popular targets. A thief has enough room to slide underneath with a relatively quiet, battery-powered saw or simple wrench and remove the catalytic converter.
Here’s how to stop catalytic converter thieves from running off with your precious metals:
  • Add an undercarriage-perimeter alarm to your vehicle(s) can help dissuade a thief trying to crawl beneath your car;

  • Park your vehicle in a closed and locked garage;
  • Park where there is enough vehicle or foot traffic to deter thieves;
  • Install lights and motion detectors in the parking area;
  • Consider a motion sensor car alarm;

There are after market “cages” you can buy that surround the catalytic converter in a steel wire cage and make it more difficult to remove with a wrench or cut off;

  • Finally, you could weld the catalytic converter onto the vehicle’s frame. If you choose this route, beware that if you need to repair or replace it, you or your mechanic will have just as hard a time removing the catalytic converter.
As the value of fiat currency drops and sends the nominal price of boring and dirty commodities through the roof, use these precautions to protect your vehicles, your mobility, and your independence from opportunistic thieves.
A further decline in the value of the dollar and increase of social chaos will only make these thefts more common and repairs harder to come by; act now before you become a target.