PETROL "drive-offs” have reached an all-time high on the Southern Downs, according to police.
Warwick has become a hotspot for fuel theft with two at separate stations on Wednesday, and as many as two a week reported.
Warwick police Sergeant Lisa Self said the spike in petrol theft coincided with higher fuel prices.
"There are situations where people forget to pay but there are just as many cases where petrol drive-offs are reported,” Sgt Self said.
"The number plates may be recorded on CCTV but often the offenders have false or stolen number plates.”
BP Warwick West reported fuel had been stolen this week in a drive-off, and United Petroleum on Helene St recently installed tighter security to combat petrol theft.
Warwick United Petroleum spokesman Jo Jahbin said at least two accidents had almost been caused near the station by people driving off at speed after stealing fuel.
"I think they are people from out of town in stolen cars or with false number plates and often they will speed off onto the highway and almost cause major accidents,” Mr Jahbin said.
He said there had been a $55 fuel drive-off this week and another $90 petrol theft earlier this month.
A Warwick service station owner said the practice was eroding the profits of operators who were often small businesses owners.
"There is very little mark-up on petrol, so if someone steals $90 worth of fuel that's almost the full wholesale amount the service station owner has paid,” he said.
Warwick United Petrol Station spokesman Harry Sing said petrol theft was low at the 24-hour station in Wallace St. "Our bowsers are close to the door, so potential thieves would be deterred by that,” Mr Sing said.
The Service Station Association said drive-offs cost the industry more than $55 million a year nationally.