About a year ago, a number of my cars were either towed and broken or vandalized and robbed by various people, some of whom are now in jail. A repeated victim of the abuse was my poor 2006 Ford E-350 Power Stroke van. It’s been dragged across a parking lot, vandalized, stolen and eventually scrapped. But that’s not all—the thieves also decided to “pimp” it out for some reason.
While I may be known best around here for my vast quantity of Smart Fortwos and Volkswagens, I also used to keep around a truck or van to haul parts around or to take on off-road trips. My fiancée and I bought the E-350 for a wintry Gambler 500 run and found it so useful that we kept it around.
The van and its parody NASA Gambler theme was somehow one of the only 6.0-liter Power Strokes to run well without stretching its head bolts to oblivion.
February 7 started like any other Sunday. I woke up early to head out to Galt Airport for a bitterly cold, but extremely exciting flight lesson. Unfortunately, my excitement dropped as when I pulled out of the parking lot, I discovered that my van was missing. My initial thought was that it got towed again. I asked my fiancée to see what happened to it.
These issues all began after my condo association ordered a fictitious tow company to remove a few of my cars and the van for reasons that didn’t actually break any rules. For a baffling example, my Passat W8 below was towed for not having a parking pass and no license, even though both were clearly visible on the car. See that red pass, there? How could you miss it!
To make matters worse, the tow truck driver damaged every car so badly that only the van was able to safely make it home. We later found out that the cause of my pain was a neighbor who dislikes me so much that she describes me as “it.” And the condo association was acting on this person’s whims. That madness has only recently concluded and are is worth its own story for another day.
When I arrived home from my flight lesson, I discovered a bunch of parts from the van’s frame-mounted battery boxes on the ground. Yes, frame-mounted!
The 6.0 Power Stroke vans have so little space under the hood that Ford mounted the batteries to the frame. Removing them is a convoluted process. So you really, really have to want a rusty van to follow through with trying to jump-start it.
This signaled to me that the van was stolen, not simply towed. The smashed plastic on the ground was the poor battery cover from inside of the battery boxes. To make matters worse for our criminals, nighttime temperatures were deep into the negatives that weekend.
But who takes the time to charge up and steal a ratty van in subzero temperatures? There were far better cars parked next to it. It just didn’t make sense. I reported the van stolen and waited to find out if I would ever see it again. But a surprise would come the very next day.
A neighbor approached me while I was working on one of my Smarts and told me he knew where the van was. He felt bad because he helped the thieves jump-start the van without realizing the van wasn’t theirs. Sure enough, when he showed me the van it was parked no more than 200 feet from where it was stolen. Yup. These thieves were dumb enough to store my van in the same neighborhood.
As we rolled up on the van, two guys came out of the apartment building, one carrying two fresh batteries. He placed them inside the van and connected them to some makeshift cables made out of jumper cables.
My neighbor managed to defuse the situation to the point where the guys backed off. I wanted to go for it and take my van back, but a third guy materialized out of nowhere. Here’s where things go completely off of the rails.
The guy told me that he was sorry for taking the van. He was apparently told that the van was owned by some construction company, so it was perfectly good to take. That statement still baffles me. I’m pretty sure car theft is car theft no matter who or what the owner is?
Even crazier is the fact that they were upgrading before selling it. The driver told me that he tinted the windows, upgraded the stereo headunit, and upgraded the speakers. That new headunit was pretty sleek and was probably worth more than the van! They also spray-painted the wheels and the van’s badges, but they left my license plate on...which I’d think is more important than the color of the wheels.
Clearly outnumbered, I decided to find safety, call the police and let them take care of it. The driver told me he was going to give me a full tank of diesel then bring the van back for my troubles. I reported the news to my colleagues during one of our weekly meetings and even they couldn’t believe it.
But you know what, this criminal was at least somewhat honest because he did bring the van back. Unfortunately for him, there were seven police cars waiting for him.
Sadly, all of the sweet upgrades were found to be stolen goods, so the police didn’t let me keep them. And the window tint? It turned out to be spray paint.
The thieves weren’t going to stop there. When the police asked me to identify what parts were mine we found out that the thieves were going to install a class 4 trailer hitch receiver, trailer brake controller, party lights and even a subwoofer into the van before selling it. There was a laptop in back, too, supposedly for an ECU tune. They also had a second headunit onboard, for reasons. All of these were stolen, of course.
At least they left me the original headunit and the bits to install it!
They had it for less than a weekend and they were full-on upgrading it like a discount version of the Overhaulin’ tv show. But for an additional twist, the police found a massive bag of methamphetamine in the van. So I guess it was like a mix of Breaking Bad and Overhaulin’ in there.
This story is so insane that even the police didn’t believe it.
They interrogated me for over an hour to see if I was lying and was actually involved in the drug ring they believe they were busting that night. As far as I know, two of the men are now in jail. Two more were involved and it’s unclear whether they were ever caught.
As for the guy who helped them start the van? He blew up his own car a few days later.
There was one common denominator in all of it: 24-48 hours after I made progress in my dispute with my condo association or the tow company, either I get threats or my vehicles get damaged or stolen. These people also tried to steal my Audi TT on a different day, but I lucked out as the car’s starter failed on them. Thankfully, they weren’t smart enough to figure out that you can bump-start a manual.
It happened so reliably and with such regularity that even the police believed the attacks were related.
I attempted to fix the damage, but over the course of several months I was never really able to figure out what the thieves did. They certainly hacked up the battery cables and the ignition column was damaged so bad that it was entirely inoperable. Not even a screwdriver did anything.
Ultimately, we decided that the van wasn’t worth putting any real money into. As it was, we couldn’t figure out how to get it started again. So, I sent the van to the junkyard in the sky.
It’s a shame, I didn’t even get the promised full tank of diesel... .