as gas prices have risen, i'm surprised we haven't heard more about old-fashioned theft-by-siphon. gas has been stolen by siphoning for about as long as we've had automobiles. in fact, the first locking gas cap appeared in 1932, motivated by a rash of pre-SUV depression-era drivers.
i'd guess that siphoning from individuals is much less likely to result in arrest than driving off from a gas station, but thieves have opted for the latter approach in recent years. aside from numerous stories about a nevada murder of would-be siphoners, a search of google news yielded only scattered references to gas theft (e.g, in florida, minnesota, oregon). while capable (and armed) guardianship may be a factor, i'll hypothesize that the absence of mass gas thefts can be explained by a combination of target hardening and teenagers' lack of technical skills.
with regard to technical skills, gas has been so cheap and plentiful for the last twenty-five years that illegal siphoning has become something of a lost art among the american teens and twenty-somethings most likely to commit theft. this generation also likely knows less about car repair and maintenance, as today's vehicles require far less repair and maintenance than, say, the mid-seventies energy crisis. i'd suspect that the kids have done less legitimated siphoning (e.g., between lawn mowers and cars) as well, but this might be overgeneralizing based upon a small sample of yardwork-resistant kids i know.
target hardening is probably the bigger factor. newer vehicles employ devices that thwart siphoning, such that one can no longer simply stick a hose into tank A, prime it, and transfer the gas into tank B. fuel check valves, designed to stop leaks and explosions when vehicles roll over, complicate life for siphoners. moreover, now that many tanks are made of plastic rather than rust, crooks are less likely to immolate themselves piercing and draining the tanks or cutting the fuel lines.
still, it isn't difficult to find many old cars or trucks with enormous and unguarded gas tanks. once more of these stories make the news, the kids will likely catch on and employ jackrabbit pumps and other labor-saving devices. in response or anticipation of this, drivers of older vehicles will purchase locking gas caps, as my father did for the family maverick back in the 1970s. national statistics are tough to come by, but i'd bet that we'll be hearing much more about gas theft by this time next year, if not by the end of the summer.