Liquid gold

Randy Grider
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“Every time I fill up my tanks, my truck doubles in value,” one trucker recently quipped.

For most drivers, of course, the price of fuel is no laughing matter. Even for owner-operators collecting a 100 percent fuel surcharge, the soaring price of diesel creates a sense of anxiety about the industry and the overall economy.

Rising fuel costs over the past year, brought on by stratospheric crude oil prices, have created a worldwide epidemic of sorts for many petroleum products – a plague of fuel thefts. It was one thing a few years ago when a driver was an occasional victim of fuel theft. It could mean a loss of a couple hundred dollars. Today, tanks drained by fuel thieves can cost a driver or his company as much as $1,400 a hit.

While finding exact statistics is hard, as fuel theft is classified as a misdemeanor or a Class C felony (depending on the volume and value of each incident), plenty of anecdotal evidence demonstrates the growing problem. Simply searching Google News brought up hundreds of recent worldwide stories about the problem.

A few headlines: “Fuel Thefts Soar Around the World,” “Thieves Target Trucks, Farms as Diesel Prices Surge,” “Diesel-Fuel Thieves Victimizing Truckers” …

Truckers are not the only ones getting hit, of course. Farmers, car dealerships, construction companies and gas stations also are on the ever-growing list of victims. The schemes to swipe gas and diesel range from as simple as stealing from unattended vehicles at a fuel pump to cutting rubber fuel lines to innovative systems that siphon fuel from underground storage tanks.

While small-time crooks may simply drive off from a fuel pump without paying, other thieves have foregone the siphoning hose and chosen to drill holes in vehicles’ tanks to drain them dry. In your case, thefts might be most likely to occur at truckstops while you’re inside or even while you’re asleep in the cab.

Newsweek recently reported that some truckstop owners are hearing more drivers complaining about fuel theft, especially those who leave their rigs unattended over a weekend.

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Sadly, a few truckers themselves have resorted to stealing fuel from their colleagues.

Dave Berry, vice president of Phoenix-based Swift Transportation, says while he won’t comment on the company’s security measures, the 18,000-truck fleet prosecutes all theft crimes, including fuel theft. “I can see where the reward for thieves is greater now than when fuel was a dollar,” Berry says. “But we take all thefts seriously, no matter how small, and work aggressively with law enforcement to prevent them.”

For company drivers who are victims, the fleet usually absorbs the cost of the crime. For struggling owner-operators living paycheck to paycheck, having a couple hundred gallons of diesel stolen could easily threaten their ability to stay on the road.

While anyone can be a victim of theft, there are some common-sense measures (provided by fellow truckers) that can reduce your chances of finding the fuel gauge reading empty the next time you get behind the wheel:

  • Don’t leave your truck unattended while filling up your tanks.
  • Don’t fill your tank before taking time off, such as the Friday preceding an off weekend.
  • Avoid parking in poorly lit areas.
  • Purchase anti-theft devices, such as locking fuel caps and anti-siphoning systems.
  • Report suspicious activity, including vans and pickups with large storage tanks or drums near tractor-trailers.

One trucker told us he placed bio

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