Community Columns

Thieves will steal the gas from your tank and parts, too

When I aspirated gasoline, I thought I'd swallowed pure alcohol. It burned on the way down, and I burped the vile taste for days. The doctor said I was lucky I hadn't damaged my esophagus and stomach, and that he was seeing a lot of that.

I'm not talking about now -- I'm talking about 1974 and again in 1980, when the nation fell into gas rationing, and gas wasn't to be had without long lines and restrictions. We lived in Connecticut, where we were allowed to buy gas on alternating days. My mother needed gas for a trip; I was trying to siphon some from my tank to put in hers.

Today, stolen gas stories keep popping up in The Bee. What startles me is how much more drastic the stealing has gotten. People also are puncturing gas tanks to steal gas, sometimes with disastrous consequences.

That didn't happen back when. Locking gas caps were rare, and drivers would simply find their gas cover open and then, checking the fuel gauge, discover they'd been had.

Stealing today extends beyond punctured gas tanks.

A colleague had the catalytic converter literally cut from underneath her SUV. The thieves had slid under, sliced it out and vanished into the night. The auto repair shop told her that they're being sold as scrap or possibly for the precious metals in them. The height of the SUVs and trucks makes them easy targets for such thefts.

Our nation's guzzling of gas has come back to bite us in the backside. As gas prices continue to leap upward and devour our dollars, people in Stanislaus County are losing jobs, retailers have seen a drop in spending, and restaurants are imploding like collapsed souffles.

For all intents and purposes, vehicles have become traveling ATMs for thieves -- a source of gas, metals, DVD players, stuff left in the back seats, and the list goes on. I'm afraid as we sink into a recession -- which I believe our region already has entered -- the situation is likely to get worse, possibly shoving us back to the dubious honor of the nation's car theft capital.

Take a lesson from my colleague: Your only defense is a smart offense.

First, recognize that this is reality. Your vehicle, particularly those high on their tires, are potential targets and should be protected.

Park in your garage if at all possible, or at least in the driveway, and determine how to pull into the driveway to minimize access to your gas tank. Install a motion-detector light over the driveway to help deter would-be thieves. Make sure your insurance covers such thefts as catalytic converters and other parts of your car, to minimize your out-of-pocket expenses if you do get hit. Practice the rule of "don't make it easy to be a victim."

Newcorn is a Modesto resident. E-mail her at