Stealing Gas

After her tank was mysteriously depleted, the author arrived at the only solution: ditching her car. (Sort of.)

By Jessica A. Knoblauch

I’m not a typical New Yorker. I don’t drink coffee, I prefer neither the Mets nor the Yankees, and I can’t recite all the routes on the subway system. But what really sets me apart the most from other New Yorkers is that I own a car. I don’t use it much, which means that on most days it sits vacant on a side street, out of sight and out of mind. But recently I’ve come to suspect that someone else has been watching it pretty closely: the fuel gage mysteriously dropped from half full to empty during a week when I barely drove a mile.


When I first noticed the drooping arrow, I sought a reasonable explanation. Maybe the gas had evaporated over the extremely hot weekend. I tested this not-quite-hypothesis online, only to be immediately put off by a barrage of unclear user-generated answers riddled with spelling errors. Then I contemplated any possible metaphysical explanations, like maybe it was a sign from Mother Earth or some leaf-covered being telling me that I shouldn’t own a car at all. After all, I am an environmental journalist (sniff), and the hypocrisy of being a greenie with a car in such a public transpo-friendly city has stopped me short on occasion. But I don’t actually use my car. I just move it from one side of the street to the other to avoid tickets. Harmless, right? So what did Gaia have against me?

I must have been caught up in the meaning behind the disappearance — Occam’s Razor clearly pointed to theft as the most likely explanation — because it just seemed so outlandish that people would steal gas. In fact it seemed that gas would be one of the last things people would steal from a car (Sound system, rims?), but with fuel hovering at around $4.00 at the time the theft occurred, it should hardly have come as a surprise. The world is in an energy crisis that goes a lot deeper than what I pay at the pump, and a lot of Americans have been forced to choose between filling the tank and buying groceries. The decision between food and fuel has even sparked satirical webisodes. Humor aside, the percentage of income people spend on gasoline doubled between 2002 and 2007, from 1.9 percent to 3.8 percent — while income has flatlined

A conversation with my roommate, an NYC police officer, only heightened my suspicion that my gas had been filched after he hypothesized that under these conditions, gas stealing incidents would go up. Desperate times call for desperate measures, I figured, and the practice requires little more than a hose, a container, and a good dose of unflappable confidence; You Tubers have even made stealing gas easier with how-to guides. 

Still, I refused to believe it, so I did what any stubborn person would do — I started looking for evidence that would prove my roommate wrong. Much to my annoyance, a quick Google search turned up damning evidence that backed up my roommate’s hypothesis. Hard numbers on gas theft are difficult to come by, but an MSNBC article that highlighted incidents of illegal siphoning from Bethesda to Beaver Dam, WI. was especially detrimental to my case.

That did it. I was officially convinced my gas had been filched. Laws against siphoning are pretty weak in New York, (though one politician recently drafted a bill to make these types of gas crimes a felony), so I decided I needed to take matters into my own hands. Since stealing gas is a relatively low-risk undertaking (other than the off-chance you could ignite yourself), folks like me are pretty much on our own when it comes to safeguarding our fuel.

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