A growing number of SUV owners unable to cope with rising gas prices are turning to arson to escape high car payments, according to published reports.

The trend was first spotted in California during the summer of 2005 as gas prices spiked. Arson investigators report that firefighters responding to a report of a vehicle fire arrived at the Los Angeles River Bed to find two SUVs burning at the same time.

According to police reports, the California arsonist would advise SUV owners to leave their keys in the ignition and $300 cash in the glovebox, Edmunds.com reported. An accomplice would then take the car to a remote location and set the SUV on fire. After the SUV fire, the owners would contact their insurance company and report the vehicle stolen.

California police launched a sting operation and an undercover officer posed as an SUV owner who wanted his vehicle burned. The vehicle was left at a predetermined location with cash in the glovebox.

There was also a camera installed is the SUV to videotape the arsonist. When he removed the money and started to drive away, investigators hit a kill switch and triggered the door locks, trapping the SUV torch inside.

Several SUV owners are under investigation or facing charges for insurance fraud as a result of the arson and the sting operation in California.

Vehicle arson has its humorous aspects as well. In Texas, two students were arrested after they torched their high school teacher's car in exchange for passing grades.

Vehicle arson is a widespread crime in the U.S. Nearly 20 percent of all arsons occur in vehicles and arson is the second-highest cause of vehicle fires.