Leaving a vehicle unattended, and idling to warm up, is an invitation for thieves. - Photo via unsplash.com/Matt Boitor

Leaving a vehicle unattended, and idling to warm up, is an invitation for thieves.

In 2019 alone, some 84,131 stolen vehicles — or 11% of all vehicle thefts nationwide — were due to the fact that the driver left the keys in the vehicle, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB).

Sometimes it happens when a motorist makes a quick run into a store or gas station. However, many times an unattended vehicle is left running in the winter — keys clearly in view to passersby — because the driver is simply warming it up.

Known as “puffing,” the practice is one thieves are familiar with and ready to capitalize on.

As the vehicle’s exhaust runs, it will actually emit puffs of steam when warming up, making it an easy target for thieves to spot. With no one around to stop them, and the key already in the ignition, criminals only need to hop in and drive off. 

Not only is it dangerous to leave a vehicle unlocked, running, and with the key or fob inside, in some states and municipalities it’s illegal. Moreover, insurance may not cover the cost of a theft due to “puffing” because it was the owner who left the vehicle running.

As cold weather continues in many parts of the country, now is a good time for fleet operators to remind drivers to be vigilant and safeguard their vehicles at all times. Caution your drivers to never engage in “puffing” and to guard against making their vehicle a target of theft.

The NICB recommends several tips to prevent auto theft during the winter and throughout all seasons:

  • Never leave the vehicle idling and unattended to warm it up
  • Lock the vehicle, set the alarm and take all keys and fobs with you
  • Park in well-lit areas, ideally with security cameras
  • Take a picture of your registration on your cell phone and do not leave the registration in the vehicle.

Auto thefts continue to rise in the U.S. Overall, there were 880,595 vehicle thefts nationwide in 2020, about one stolen vehicle every 36 seconds, up from 794,019 in 2019, notes NICB. California had the most total thefts in 2020 with 187,094. Texas followed with 93,521, and Florida with 44,940. These three states alone accounted for 37% of all thefts nationally that year.

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