Reckless thieves targeting fuel tanks with sharp instruments are putting lives at risk, a mechanic says.
Instead of using a hose to siphon fuel, criminals are crawling under vehicles before stabbing the fuel tank and getting their fill.
The bold new technique has been widely used through Auckland's fringe inner-city suburbs with several victims coming forward on social media posts.
AA Auto Centre Kingsland manager Karlos Subritzky said thieves never made off with all the fuel and there were plenty of hazards surrounding the practice.
"It's never a good idea if you're stabbing something into a fuel tank. What's to say you don't get part of the fuel pump or something and create a spark?
"It's always going to be a bit of a risk doing anything like that, not to mention the hazard that it's going to cause the car owner and other road users.
"Once the car starts moving around the fuel is going to start sloshing around and putting fuel everywhere, that's a fire hazard."
Subritzky said at least eight customers had asked for help with ruptured tanks in the past year.
"And that's a lot … there's not many people game enough to go out and do that sort of thing."
Vehicle owners were often unaware they had been targeted and only realised after arriving at the fuel pump where it spills out onto the ground.
It happened to Aaron Levi and his beloved 2013 Volkswagen Golf around Easter.
He had parked his car off Dominion Rd near Kingsland and noticed one day when he went to turn the key it would not start.
After he arrived at a fuel station nearby and started pumping fuel, it flooded out over the ground.
The damage to his car, with the cost of a replacement and refitted tank, came to just over $1200.
He was left without a car for about four weeks.
A woman on the Mount Albert Community Facebook group had a similar story, claiming her vehicle kept leaking fuel when she tried to fill it.
"BP staff had to close the station, stopped everyone from coming in. Fire brigade called in. $400 damage later and the danger it put me in. These thieves are really scums," she said.
The ever-increasing price of fuel, along with the Regional Fuel Tax, coincided with a spate of vehicle owners visiting Subritzky with punctured fuel tanks.
In his eyes, rising fuel prices would be a major factor, if not the determining one, behind the punctured fuel tank technique.
"That's all that I could put it down to really, it's an opportunistic person who thinks they can get away with doing it," Subritzky said.
Police said the thefts appeared to be opportunistic and were not aware of any trends in the area.
Inquiries were made into the incident involving Levi's car but police were unable to take further action due to a lack of evidence.
However, the spokesperson encouraged anyone who had information in relation to the incident to get in touch with Auckland Central Police on 09 302 6400 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.
Motor Trade Association spokesman Ian Baggot said siphoning fuel had become less common over time with the development of modern technology.
"We haven't heard of this for a while given modern vehicles have anti-siphoning devices as well as lockable caps."
Puncturing a fuel tank was highly dangerous, Baggot added: "The friction caused by puncturing the tank could be enough to ignite the fuel."
Newer vehicles are often fitted with plastic fuel tanks, compared to older vehicles which were predominantly fitted with metal tanks.
Plastic tanks were well protected, hard and compact, but Subritzky said theoretically they could be punctured by simply driving over a gravel road.
"But the nature of what we're seeing looks to be a knife or really sharp instrument that's basically gone straight into it … we're seeing fuel tanks knifed basically," he said.
Vehicle owners should park off the street where possible, or in well-lit public areas, Subritzky said.
"On the street, I guess that's where it's happening - just park your vehicle off the street, that's all I can suggest."