TASB Risk Management Fund
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This is How You Guard Against Fuel Theft

July 26, 2022 David Wylie

School buses

If your schools have suffered a cyberattack, you know thieves are opportunistic. They're also creative. Consider the offense recently committed against a Houston gas station.

Criminals outfitted a minivan with a trap door. Then, they parked over the station's underground fuel tank, tapped into it, and stole 1,000 gallons of petrol.

With fuel prices stretching into uncomfortable—and unprecedented—territory, criminals are looking to cash in. Sadly, gas stations, individuals, and even schools are on their radar.

District loses $13K in fuel to criminals

The average cost of regular unleaded gas in Texas nearly doubled during the past year, hovering around a record $4.34 per gallon, according to AAA. Diesel fuel, which powers school buses, comes in at $5 per gallon. Still, Texas is faring better than much of the country.

In California, a gallon of diesel sets you back $6.30. That’s a hefty price that inspired crooks to cut the lock on a school district's transportation yard gate this spring and make off with 2,000 gallons. Approximate value: $13,000.

Similar incidents recently played out in Florida, New Jersey, and right here Texas. Emergency measures by the federal government provide hope for relief at the pump. In the meantime, your transportation team should pull the curtain back on fuel theft strategies and learn how to stop criminals from targeting your fleet.

How fuel is stolen

You’re probably familiar with the old-school siphoning method of removing gas from a vehicle. All you need is plastic tubing, a gas can, and confidence in the laws of gravity.

Newer vehicles are outfitted with a valve that prevents gas from spilling out during an accident. The valve also stops gas from being siphoned. But remember, criminals are creative.

Nowadays, they get around spill-prevention upgrades by breaking gas caps, cutting fuel lines and, most commonly, drilling into fuel tanks. Drilling is faster than siphoning, and the fallout isn’t limited to the loss of fuel. Replacing a drilled tank can cost around $2,000 in a white fleet vehicle.

Getting caught isn't the only risk associated with drilling into fuel tanks. The combination of flammable gas and heat from the drill has sparked fires like the one that forced this would-be thief to quickly recall his "drop and roll" training.

Fuel theft prevention strategies

Depending on your budget, you can use a combination of no-cost and paid strategies to protect your fuel investments and keep your vehicles and equipment on the road, where they belong.

No-cost strategies

  • Remember that the higher a vehicle sits off the ground, the easier it is to access the fuel tank. That means your yellow fleet is smack in the middle of thieves' radar, so keep bus barns locked.
  • Park defensively:
    • Don't leave district vehicles in public places such as airport parking lots for long periods.
    • Park in well-lit areas monitored by security cameras. That's especially important for white fleet vehicles that aren't locked in the bus barn.
    • Limit access to the fuel door by parking close to a wall or another vehicle.
    • Make sure the fuel door can be seen from a main road.
  • Monitor for signs of internal theft: Do mileage readings match driver reports? Are there sudden, unexpected drops in fuel efficiency? Consider issuing fuel cards so you can more easily monitor employee activity.
  • Show drivers how to check for credit card skimmers at gas pumps. Even better, require drivers to pay inside the store.

Paid strategies

  • Install locking gas caps.
  • Consider fuel tank anti-siphon devices.
  • Invest in fleet management software. For example, fuel sensors that link to software can send email notifications if fuel levels drop outside of working hours. Some systems also link fuel card transactions with a vehicle’s GPS.

Do you have a fleet management program?

Fuel theft is a relatively low-risk crime, and thieves don’t always work under the cover of darkness. In Nevada, they drilled into a minivan's tank during broad daylight—while the victims were in the vehicle!

Criminals aren’t likely to let up until oil supply and demand even out. Until then, simple strategies such as parking defensively, keeping bus barns locked, and monitoring fuel card transactions will help protect your fleet and your budget.

If you need more guidance, reach out to your TASB risk solutions consultant. We’re here to help you build a comprehensive fleet management program that addresses core elements such as preventative maintenance, inventory tracking, driver safety, and the theft of fuel, catalytic converters, and other resources.

Tagged: Auto, "Risk Trends"