Tim O'Brien | Jul 6, 2008

Is it just me? Is the joy of owning a car similar to the joy of being whacked about the head with a fence paling?

As further proof that a dark malevolent force has clamped itself to the collective crotch, here’s another sign of the times: petrol pre-pay is now on the rise.

Pre-pay, brothers and sisters, in case you are unaware, is when you stand for an hour— or five minutes at least—at a petrol pump wondering why the damn thing won’t turn on, before you notice a little sign saying: “Please pay before using this pump; we apologise for the inconvenience”.

Oh joy, whacko, great.

Yes, alas, Victorian motor industry group, VACC, has asked for ‘forbearance’ from motorists as increasing numbers of service stations institute pre-pay systems on the servo forecourt, especially after-hours.

The reason? Higher petrol and diesel prices have produced an increase in ‘fuel theft’—motorists filling up, and then driving off without paying.

According to VACC, ‘drive-off’ theft has become a significant problem for the industry, especially for smaller independent operators who do not enjoy the same wholesale fuel discounts as oil-company and supermarket chain outlets. In short, they pay more for the fuel they sell.

“Many independent service stations run on the barest of thin margins,” VACC executive director David Purchase said.

“Unfortunately, as a direct result of the rapid rise in fuel prices, there has been increasing incidence of drive-off theft from service stations, where customers leave the premises without paying for the fuel they pump into their vehicles.

“This is stealing and motorists should be warned they will get caught if they do it,” he said.

While most service stations have CCTV monitoring of vehicles at the pump, this apparently does not deter some of the more brazen thieves who, it is reported, often use stolen number plates to avoid detection. According to VACC, pre-paying for fuel is the most effective method of preventing drive-offs.

So, it’s officially now an epidemic: the pain in the pocket is now slowly spreading to the arse-region.