NHP Cracks Down on Illegal Use of Tax-free Diesel

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RENO, Nev. (AP) - If you drive a diesel, state authorities have a stern reminder: Keep the red stuff out of the gas tank.

The special fuel, sold only for off-road equipment use, is dyed red at refineries to distinguish it from other diesel fuel used in highway vehicles. The difference has nothing to do with performance. It's about money.

Dyed diesel is exempt from state and federal taxes, so it costs roughly 50 cents per gallon cheaper than regular diesel that sells for about $2.88.

But there's a big restriction on where the fuel can be used. Unless otherwise exempt, the rubber on the tires of whatever it powers better not meet the public pavement.

Trooper George Edwards puts it this way: "If you're going to run it up and down the road, you need to use the taxed fuel."

Most dyed diesel is used for large equipment - backhoes, graders, mining and farming machinery. But too often, authorities say workers at job sites will pump it into their private pickups. To identify scofflaws, the NHP administers a sort of breathalyzer test on the gas tank, and can identify dye concentrations of one part per million.

A first offense is $2,500. It jumps to $5,000 for a second offense, $7,500 for a third and $10,000 for a fourth.

Repeat offenses also can prompt a state audit and back payment of fuel taxes.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.