To Catch a Gas Thief

Oct 31, 2020

RAY: This puzzler is historic, folkloric, automotive -- and, hopefully, not idiotic or pathetic. It was sent in by Laura Adamson, who writes:

This took place in the early 1970's, during the first gas crunch when there were long lines at gas stations. My friend Maryann lived in a rural neighborhood in upstate New York, and someone was sneaking around late at night siphoning gasoline. Maryann and the sheriff got together and hatched a plan to catch the thief. It involved using Maryann's car, and its full tank of gasoline as the bait.

Unlike many of her neighbors, Maryann did not own a locking gas cap, so her tank was very siphonable. The idea wasn't to catch the thief with a secret alarm, hidden cameras, or anything like that. They would catch the thief just by allowing him or her to siphon the gas and take it home for use in their own car.

The thief did strike and siphon her gas, and it was the end of the gas thefts.

The question is, what trap did they lay, and what was it about Maryann's car that made it easy to figure out who the gas thief was?



RAY: What was unique about Mary Ann's car was it was a Saab. And from 1959, I think, to 1969, Saab made a two-stroke engine, which requires that the oil and the gas be mixed together. There's no oil in the crankcase.

These engines didn't smoke very much, because they were only about 40 horsepower. But, when the gas thief put this mixture of gas and oil into his Chevy or whatever he drove, the trail of smoke he left behind allowed the sheriff to follow him right home, and arrest him. Actually, I think the sheriff just shot him right on the spot.


Get the Car Talk Newsletter