FORT WORTH, Texas – Heidi Perkins spent $90 filling up her 2002 Dodge pickup the Friday before Mother’s Day and used a quarter of the tank over the weekend. So she was mystified Monday morning when the gas gauge was below “E” as she drove her daughter to school.

She pulled into the closest gas station and began to refill.

“The gas was pouring out of the gas tank almost as fast as it was going in,” said Perkins, who lives in Waxahachie, Texas. “There was a hole in it. And I started to wonder if my gas was stolen.”

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

With gas prices at record highs and service stations thwarting drive-offs with pay-before-you-pump policies, gas thieves are becoming more creative.

Police and auto-shop owners have reported gas tanks being punctured or fuel lines being cut on parked cars, trucks and SUVs. While most mechanics say they’ve seen only a couple of victims each, they fear the crime will grow with gas prices.

“I have a customer whose van was hit,” said Jonathan Lane, a service manager at J&B Auto Service in Crowley, Texas. “Those vans can easily hold more than $100 worth of gas. With prices so high, it becomes valuable stuff.”

Gas theft isn’t a new crime. Drive-offs were common at gas stations and thieves have long siphoned gas by inserting a tube into the fuel tank and sucking on it until the gas flows.

But today, most gas stations won’t turn on the pumps unless customers pre-pay or pay at the pump, and fuel tanks are now built with rollover valves – small balls in the tanks’ necks designed to keep fuel from leaking in rollover accidents. The balls block siphoning tubes from entering the tank.

So thieves are cutting in, leaving drivers not only paying for more gas but also repairs.

“I had a young lady who drives a little Cavalier, and someone had used a drill to make a hole in the tank,” said Tommy Westerman, a mechanic in Fort Worth. “For a new tank and labor it was about $400. It does damage.”

Not all thieves are puncturing the tanks; others are cutting into the fuel filler tube. On some cars, the plastic tubes, which carry gasoline into the tank, run on the underside of the vehicle, said Jack Johnson, owner of Jack’s Auto Repair in Hurst, Texas.

Most of the vehicles targeted so far are trucks and SUVs because they sit higher off the ground, mechanics said.

The fuel filler lines on delivery vans in Fort Worth have been cut twice, most recently last month.

“One morning we go to drive away and gas starting pouring out the bottom,” said Gary Gaze, a store manager. “The line had been cut clean, and they stuck a tube in and siphoned it out.”

The store has since taken security measures and park the vans in a different place, he said.

Security is also elevated at the Petro truck stop on Interstate 20 in Parker County, where someone recently drained diesel fuel out of an 18-wheeler while the driver dozed inside the cab. He didn’t realize it until he started up his rig.

Diesel fuel is currently going for around $4.75 a gallon. Big rigs usually have two fuel tanks, with each tank holding 120 to 150 gallons. At $4.75 a gallon, it would cost $1,425 to fill up two 150-gallon tanks.

Authorities say the best thing motorists can do to prevent gas theft is basic vehicle safety: Park in garages or driveways instead of the street. Install motion-activity security lights. Report suspicious people in parking lots.

“If it keeps happening, some person with ingenuity will come along and develop some kind of metal shield or plate to build around your tank for protection,” said Terry Coote, owner of ATW Repair in Fort Worth. “Until then, hope it doesn’t happen to you.”

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