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April 20 2017
By Tim Deakin

Tim is the Senior Journalist at routeONE magazine is also the title’s chief test driver, with considerable vehicle knowledge

David Ogden: 'Action needed to stop fuel thefts'

Diesel theft is not an unheard of problem, and one operator is asking coach makers to do their bit to put an obstacle in the way of thieves via a simple change to the tank filler neck to prevent siphoning

Diesel theft a problem that builders could help mitigate, says David Ogden

Fuel theft: It’s likely to have afflicted most businesses that run PCVs at some point, and one Merseyside operator is calling for manufacturers to do more to help prevent it via an alteration to tank fillers.

“We regularly suffer diesel theft, both at the depot and when on tour at coach parks or at hotels,” says David Ogden, Director of St Helens-based David Ogden Coaches.

The most common tactic for fuel thieves is to siphon diesel into 25-litre drums, says Mr Ogden. As a result, the volume of loss is often modest, but he adds that on some occasions, thieves may set up a feed and then hide nearby to see if they have been observed.

By the time they return to the vehicle, the drum may have overflowed, making it difficult to gauge exactly how much has been taken.

Two coaches with anti-siphon devices within their filler necks have proved resistant to fuel thieves, but Mr Ogden explains that it is not always possible to find units that fit.

As a result, he has devised a home-made cure that he says would be much easier to implement during the build phase.

Heavy modifications

“Temsa fits anti-siphon devices and we have had no trouble with those, but the gauze is on the neck, and it is possible for it to be knocked into the tank by a determined thief.

“But to modify our other coaches, we have begun to cut the standard filler neck off entirely and then replace it with a longer one that has an elbow in it.

“When a gauze is then placed at the tank end of the new neck, thieves cannot get a pipe in and they also cannot get anything in to force off the gauze. As a result, it is simply not possible to siphon out of these tanks.”

But there is a problem with this arrangement. After modification, the filler neck does not match up with the bodywork flaps that are fitted to coaches, and it is difficult to alter the flaps’ location.

“From a manufacturer’s point of view it would be a lot easier to incorporate the modification to the tank filler and the bodywork flaps at the point that the coach is being built.

“I am trying to encourage coach builders to look at incorporating it into their designs, because I believe that it would be of huge benefit to operators.”

Replacement of straight necks with examples with an elbow is worthwhile

A tricky problem

Mr Ogden says that diesel theft is a problem that is otherwise difficult to deal with.

“Besides our 11 coaches we also run five buses on school work. We leave them nearly empty of fuel overnight and then only add enough in the morning to complete the day’s work, but it’s not so simple for coaches.

“The driver may have filled up part way through a long journey, so there is always fuel in the tanks. We have CCTV in our yard, but when thefts happen, the police show little interest.

“We will soon have 16 high-definition cameras around the yard, but on one occasion when we suffered a theft, I was alerted and drove 20 minutes from my home to the depot and I still had to wait half an hour for the police to attend.”

Where David Ogden Coaches is modifying its fleet with new filler necks, Mr Ogden says that the work is substantial and it requires removal of the tanks. It can take three days to complete the task, and that time is not always available in a fleet that spends much time away from base.

Answer is out there

“At the moment, we are fitting the widely-available anti-siphon devices to the tanks of our coaches. They are better than nothing, but they are not the answer, because they can be beaten by a dedicated thief,” says Mr Ogden.

“There is a cheaper and better answer out there, and that is for coach manufacturers to modify fuel tank fillers on the production line.

“I don’t believe that I am on my own in suffering fuel thefts. While 50 litres may not sound a huge amount, when it happens regularly it is problematic. I know of one coach operator that has resorted to drilling holes and welding bars into the filler neck.”

Anti-siphon devices and filler neck modifications may not put the most determined thief off, but Mr Ogden finishes by saying that he believes most thefts are opportunists.

“If it is not possible for them to remove fuel via the filler neck, they usually give up; we have seen that on our Temsas. But diesel theft is a problem across the industry.”

routeone comment

Diesel theft is, sadly, a crime that many police forces are unable to treat as a priority, and there can be few operators who have not suffered from it.

David Ogden’s suggestion will not address the most determined thieves, who will damage the tank with a screwdriver or similar if it is not possible to extract diesel via the filler neck.

But what it will do is put off opportunist theft, which is what Mr Ogden believes is by far the most common type.

So routeone puts it to manufacturers: Is it possible to do as he suggests?

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