Rebecca Simonet never thought anyone would steal fuel from her motor home, especially after buying what she figured was a pretty good locking gas cap.
But earlier this month someone siphoned 10 gallons of gas from her 1993 Toyota Itasca, which was parked across from her home at the Raindance Mobile Park in Apache Junction.
"It really didn't help," Simonet said of the gas cap. "I was totally blown away when it happened. I kept looking at the gas gauge and saying, 'How did they do this?' "
Police said neither the gas cap nor the filler tube appeared to be tampered with.
Valley motorists' fears about being ripped off after they leave the pump are driving many of them to invest in locking gas caps. As gas prices continue to soar, auto parts stores report a spike in the sale of locking caps.
But as Simonet found out, the devices do not completely prevent fuel from being siphoned by thieves. What the caps do is give people who buy them a hope they are protected - albeit a false one, said Rick Ehrhardt, owner of Ronnie's Auto Service in Tempe.
"It doesn't take a lot to get a locking gas cap off," Ehrhardt said. "The cheaper ones, especially from auto parts stores, can be broken into with a good twist."
Anthony Sanchez, manager of a Pep Boys store in Chandler, said he has seen an increase in sales of locking gas caps in the past few weeks.
"Customers are worried about gas being stolen because the prices are so high," Sanchez said. "Some people say they've already had gas stolen and want to try to do something about it."
Pep Boys sells locking gas caps for $14.99. They're $5 to $19 at Auto Zone stores and $14.99 to $24.99 at Checker Auto Parts.
Ehrhardt said locking gas caps, and even vehicles equipped with locking gas tank doors that open from a switch inside the car, don't guarantee thieves can't siphon gas. He said a locking gas cap can be opened with a cordless drill or screwdriver. Doors can be pried open with minimal effort.
"They can all be done," Ehrhardt said. "There's no way to stop thieves, really. I haven't seen that much demand for locking gas caps at my business, but I'd think that there will be."
Valley police and AAA Arizona officials said they have not noticed an increase in reported gas thefts from individuals or firms that rent vehicles. In Arizona, gas theft is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail and a $2,500 fine. Thefts are usually from vehicles, rather than gas stations, because most Valley stations make customers prepay for gas.
Mesa police Detective Chris Arvayo said while the department hasn't seen a spike in gas thefts, the agency does list "protect your gas" suggestions on its Web site. Mesa is the only Valley municipality to offer such tips on the Web.
"We're definitely aware of the trends," Arvayo said. "There has been no pattern so far, but we've put up the information to make people aware."
The pointers to motorists include parking in a locked garage, buying a locking gas cap, parking a vehicle where it can be seen by others, and making sure all windows are closed and doors are locked.
In Gilbert, police say there are no signs that gasoline thefts are on the rise. Gilbert police Sgt. Mark Marino said victims may not even know if someone has siphoned fuel from their tanks, particularly if the thieves don't drain too much. They also may not call the police to report the theft.
Still, it is a good idea for people to take precautions such as buying a locking cap, Marino said.
"It's one more deterrent," Marino said. "It may slow the average person down and send somebody to the next vehicle."
Scottsdale police Sgt. Mark Clark said his city hasn't seen a rise in gas thefts and doesn't expect to.
"Criminals would rather take copper than gas at this point," Clark said. "Those thieves probably don't have a car to drive. Looking at the criminal mind, it's 'I'm looking for a fix.' I don't think the criminal element is feeling the gas pinch yet."