Randy Kolenberg of Kolenberg Motors on Cowichan Lake Road says the dealership has been having trouble with thefts for about five months. (Lexi Bainas/Citizen)

Cowichan Valley car dealerships hit by thefts of gas and more

Drilling and syphoning gas, stealing shocks and converters: car crime is up: dealers say

Duncan’s Island Ford dealership is asking for help from the public to solve a rash of thefts from vehicles on their lot.

Gas tanks have been drilled and their fuel stolen.

General manager Justin Pambrun, who is also a partner in the dealership, said Jan. 8, “It’s been probably two weeks since the first occurrence, definitely over a week ago. We only discovered it when we got in a vehicle and there was no fuel in it. We figured that was weird but when we went to fill it up we realized it was leaking out of the tank.”

Checking out that odd situation, they discovered what had happened.

“They [thieves] were drilling out the tanks. The real problem with that is that you can’t repair the gas tanks; they’re mostly all plastic. You’ve got to actually get a brand new gas tank.

“So, they’d maybe be stealing 20-30 litres of fuel but it costs us $1,000 to $2,000 to replace the gas tank.”

The only sign of the thieves was a glass Pyrex measuring cup that they think the thieves might have used to funnell the gas into.

At least a half dozen vehicles have been targeted.

“We did a Facebook post on Monday to let everybody know what was happening. Over the weekend, we said: ‘This is crazy!’ We’d been discovering vehicles. We’re not moving all of our stock all the time. But we went around and checked what we could and found a few other vehicles.

“This is ridiculous. At this point, we’ve got a full-time security guard at night. That costs about $1,500 a week, just to have that person there, to hopefull avoid one gas tank getting punctured. It’s definitely costly.”

The big Ford dealership is not the only one affected. “I’ve heard of Toyota, Kolenberg Motors, and Cowichan Motors, too,” he said.

Island Ford has also suffered from petty thefts.

“There’s always something. On our community truck, our big, lifted old Ford, all the shocks were removed all off of that. Then we had a trailer that had a winch taken from it just before Christmas. That was probably another thousand bucks there. It’s all these little but expensive things that we can’t turn around and claim on insurance because the deductible is about $10,000.”

With the big lot, it’s not just a case of pinpointing someone on a video, either.

“They’re either too far away or something else. We do have a camera system. We’ve had a vehicle stolen probably in December as well: a sewage truck that pumps out human sewage, they just drove off with it. And we’ve had random stuff stolen, stuff from customer’s vehicles. If anybody’s got toolboxes, they could be hit. We heard just the other day somebody had stolen a chainsaw from the box at the back of a truck. The toolbox wasn’t locked. It’s really unfortunate.”

Police were contacted.

“Basically, they can’t do anything. Unless they’re caught in the act. Or if the police happen to know the individual on the video. We had one earlier this fall where a customer’s vehicle was stolen and the thief was identified by the police. [An officer] said: ‘I know where this guy lives’. They went to the house and the car was parked three doors down. The other stuff has always sort of been there: cars on blocks will lose a set of wheels, spare tires, shocks…every time it happens we have to make it better.”

North Cowichan/Duncan RCMP acknowledged there has been an increase in theft of fuel from vehicles. They said residents are being targeted, along with incidents at Ford, Toyota Duncan and Galaxy Motors.

Pambrun posted a notice on Facebook which has been shared widely and includes the following: “If anyone has any information related to these ridiculous actions, please contact us at 250-748-5555 or North Cowichan RCMP at 250-748-5522. To the people doing this, if you’re this hard up for fuel, come see us during business hours and we will gladly work out getting you some fuel at no charge.”

Meanwhile, not far away, at Kolenberg Motors on Cowichan Lake Road, Randy Kolenberg said the dealership he owns with his dad, Rob, has also been targeted by thieves.

“It’s been going on for about five months here,” he said.

“It’s not just drilling for gas, it’s also syphoning. So, if it’s cars, they’re siphoning the tanks, if it’s trucks, they’re drilling holes. If the truck has a catalytic converter, they’re cutting them off, too. All we can do now is tighten up our security a bit. We have cameras and we’re monitored but it really isn’t helping. They’re just crawling out from the back and we can’t see them.”

His take is that the thefts are just part of the crime rate increasing.

“Dealerships are such an easy target.”

The dealerships that have been hit are also located just on the edges of built up areas, making access a little easier for thieves.

“I think it’s just simple crime. It’s not very different from what friends who live nearby have told me. They’ve had people opening their back doors at night and going into their houses.”

Kolenberg Motors has suffered more than fuel thefts, too, he said.

“We’ve had trailer hitches unbolted in the middle of the night. And we can’t have LED light bars or any accessories on the vehicles because they go missing, too. Anything moveable. We’ve been pretty lucky here, no broken windows. They’re not vandalizing, they’re after stuff they can sell.”

If you have any information regarding the thefts of fuel or have witnessed suspicious activity, please contact the North Cowichan/Duncan RCMP at 250-748-5522 or Crime Stoppers at cowichancrimestoppers.com; you can TEXT a tip by typing COWICHAN plus your tip to 274637, or call 1-800-222-8477.

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Even this truck used for promotion at Island Ford has been hit: shocks have been stolen from the 1977 Ford pickup. (Lexi Bainas/Citizen)

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