Normally, he’s the guy who fixes this costly problem but now, mechanic Lorenzo Williams is a victim of the weird crime that appears be on the rise.
“I just parked the vehicle for a little bit, I came back and it wouldn’t start. I kept checking and checking and it wouldn’t start,” Williams says. “I knew I had just put gas in it so I didn’t check that. It took me a while to actually recognize the gas wasn’t there, and then I thought the gauge wasn’t working. It wasn’t until after I went underneath to check… I look under and there’s a decent-sized hole drilled in the tank.”
Williams got a tow truck to bring his vehicle from where it was drilled in Sahali to his shop, and got to work fixing the issue he’s helped others with. Williams says he began repairing drilled gas tanks just this year, a problem he has never encountered since starting as a mechanic in Kamloops four years ago. Now, he says his shop has seen around a 90 per cent increase in fuel tank vandalism this year.
“I know there’s a lot from my shop alone, we have seen five this year,” Williams says. “A store close by, they have a big delivery truck and they didn’t drill those, they cut the fill tube because it’s exposed, so they cut those... They’ve done that to that vehicle probably five or six times.”
Williams says the vehicles that are brought in are often from commercial businesses or construction sites. He says the thieves might believe that these company vehicles are regularly filled with gas, although he says that was not the case.
”They seem to target fleets like the businesses. They target local business owners, the construction guys and stuff like that, people who they think may have a lot of gas in their vehicles,” Williams says. “They’ve got a dashcam. The person doing it, they’re not broke or anything, a nice pickup truck drove up, the guy hopped out with a drill, cut the holes and in five minutes he’s gone... It’s been the same truck doing this thing, it’s the same group of people doing this.”
Williams says the value of fuel stolen from these vehicles is a far cry from the amount the owners have to spend on repairs. For his own truck, a new gas tank costs about $2,500, and although he did his repairs himself, it would cost anyone else around $500 for the work. Although temporary fixes are available, he says it gets tricky when it comes time for owners to have their vehicles inspected.
“You can’t pass an inspection with a patched tank, it has to be solid in one piece… If it’s not an (original equipment manufacturer) from the factory, you can’t pass inspection with a plug in your tank, so there’s a lot of regulations around it and replacing the tank is probably the only way with some vehicles.”
Last year in Penticton, RCMP were searching for thieves who drilled and drained a gas tank, then put a plug in it, and returned to drain it again. Williams believes the problem of gas tank drilling is increasing because newer vehicles have anti-theft mechanisms which have led the thieves to new and dangerous methods to get the fuel.
“The older vehicles, you were able to put a hose down the actual gas tube without doing any damage, but the newer vehicles have a lot of restrictions, you can’t get a hose down into the fill tube because there’s a protective ball in there, you can’t get anything but liquid past, and that's why they resort to drilling these tanks,” Williams says.
Gas tank drilling can be an extremely dangerous endeavour. Although many of the newer gas tanks are made of plastic instead of metal, the electric tools used to drill into them could spark and cause a blaze.
“It’s Russian Roulette. Gas is just looking for something to burn, anything can start a fire with gas,” Williams says. “On the gas vehicles, when you drill a tank, if a spark should hit anywhere there that vehicle will start a fire. Anything can set that vehicle off… the electric tools that they’re using can definitely start a fire.”
Williams believes there is nearly no way to protect your vehicles unless they are stored inside. Even then, he notes that the construction site was gated and locked when the thieves broke in searching for gas. He says regardless of where your vehicle is parked, there is a risk.
“Even up in Sahali, you could leave doors open and stuff like that, but not anymore. This thing is not just isolated to the North Shore, this is happening everywhere in Kamloops,” Williams says. “We’re just vulnerable to this. If they really want the gas, they’re going to get the gas some way, if they want the diesel, they’re going to get it, there’s really no way of stopping this.”
Jodi Shelkie of the Kamloops RCMP says although it is difficult to track the number of reported cases from this year to last, this kind of crime happens in cycles.
Shelkie says there are a few ways for car owners to protect their vehicles, such as parking in a well-lit area or using a motion sensor light. She adds to avoid parking your vehicle near bushes, trees, and retaining walls as they may offer a sense of privacy to the thieves.
Although Williams says the construction company has seen security footage of the same suspects repeatedly, Shelkie says it is hard to determine when, if ever, suspects have been arrested specifically for drilling.
“The suspects who drill gas tanks are often the same suspects who steal from vehicles or steal the actual vehicle,” Shelkie says. “We have made arrests of suspects who steal from vehicles and who have stolen vehicles.”
If you see suspicious activity, report it to RCMP.
— This story was originally published at 7 a.m. Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2019.
To contact a reporter for this story, email Jenna Wheeler or call (250) 819-6089 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.
We welcome your comments and opinions on our stories but play nice. We won't censor or delete comments unless they contain off-topic statements or links, unnecessary vulgarity, false facts, spam or obviously fake profiles. If you have any concerns about what you see in comments, email the editor in the link above.