Petrol station owner says fuel thieves costing him over $100k a year

One of the biggest petrol station owners in the country says the problem of drive-off petrol thefts is spiking leaving his staff in tears.

Each of his stations is experiencing up to five drive-offs a week - and the thieves are becoming more and more crafty.

Petrochem Group director of operations Sanjai Bagia operates 13 Caltex petrol stations around New Zealand.

He says so many people are now driving off without paying for their fuel that it's costing him between $100,000 and $130,000 a year.

"Extreme frustration, really," he said.

He says the drive-off thefts spike in bursts when the fuel price goes up - he now gets up to five a week, at each station.

"A higher number is sometimes a matter of you making a loss in the business, or not."

One video shows the thief giving the station attendant the nod, and the pump is opened - but he then takes off with $200 worth of petrol.

Another man hides behind his boot to avoid cameras, before he too, drives off with a full tank.

Many people even buy drinks first to convince attendants of their honesty before stealing gas.

So Bagia has just changed his policy, the pump won't be opened for most people without payment first - but that's unleashing a torrent of racist abuse at staff.

"We quite often will be told to back to where you came from. It does hurt. Our staff, some of them will end up in tears," he said.

Bagia is budgeting to afford $15,000 terminals where you can use your card at the pump, but for now it's use an app, or pay first.

It means you can't grab and go anymore, you have to go inside and pay first and guess the amount if you want to fill the tank. Then you come back to pump and go inside a second time if you've overpaid and need a partial refund.

The change is being met with a mix of frustration and empathy.

"I always kinda stand here hoping that they'll change their mind and let me fill, as I'm doing right now - but it's not working," one person said.

"I sorta feel like they're treating you as if you're a little bit dishonest," another added.

"If they're having a lot of thefts, you know, I don't blame them," a third added.

Only a tiny fraction of fuel thefts are recovered, with stolen numberplates a massive problem.

While Bagia saves to upgrade technology, he just wants understanding from customers.