Would-be fuel thieves managed to evade police following a chase across Braintree, involving a three-car collision.
Police were called shortly before 6.50pm yesterday to Benfield Way following reports that three men had been acting suspiciously and were attempting to steal fuel.
They are believed to have driven off in a white Ford Fiesta, which was then involved in a crash with two other cars.
The suspects then drove along Manor Street before dumping the vehicle and running off.
Officers carried out a search and the police helicopter also assisted, but they were unable to trace the suspects.
Police are continuing their enquiries and urge anyone with any information to call 101 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.