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Our Daily Bleg: Who Are the Gas Siphoners?

A reader from Boston named Robert Veneman-Hughes writes in with a bleg request on a subject we’ve wondered about before here: gas siphoning.

Here’s what I wrote not long ago at the end of a post about an increase in theft of catalytic converters:

I haven’t read many articles lately about people who steal gas out of people’s tanks, even though the price of gas is historically high. Why not?

I am guessing that, although this does happen once in a while, it’s never been very popular since it’s just not practical to a) siphon off enough gas to make a lot of money, and b) find a willing buyer for used gas.

Now Robert has fleshed out the question a bit. Read below and please offer any insights you have. I like his black-market theory.

Last night, while at the supermarket, someone tried to break into the gas tank of his car and siphon out gas. They used a crowbar to pry open his gas tank door (it was one of the models that has to be unlatched by the driver), stole his gas cap, and then tried to jam something into the gas spout that deformed the metal. Someone scared off the would-be thieves before they could actually take any gas, but the intent was certainly there.

This got me thinking. What is the motivation behind gas thieves? Are they just siphoning off a few gallons for themselves? (If so, it seems like it’s quite a bit of effort.)

Is there a market for stolen gasoline — a less-than-honest gas station, perhaps, buying no-questions-asked gasoline on the side? Alternately, is there an unofficial economy in this — like the unlicensed “gypsy taxis” in the inner cities — where someone serves as a black market distributor for gasoline to others?