Puffing to Warm Vehicles is Bad for the Environment and Fine-able

As we continue to see temperatures drop in many parts of the country, including Colorado, you might think it’s safe to warm up your vehicle before hitting the road. But it’s illegal and could cost you a hefty fine if you are caught.

“Puffing,” or leaving your car running unattended, is a trend that happens every winter and is an open invitation to car thieves. Now, the Rocky Mountain Insurance Association (RMIA) and the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) are teaming up to warn the public about starting your vehicle and leaving it with the key or fob inside.

Remote starters that allow you to start the engine while keeping the vehicle safely locked up, without the presence of a key or fob, are considered a safer, legal alternative. If you warm your car without a remote starter, consider using this time to scrape ice off the windshield, rear window, side windows, and mirrors.

“Auto theft is a crime of opportunity and warming up with your car can prevent it from being stolen,” warns Carole Walker, RMIA Executive Director. “Leaving your car running unattended for just a few minutes seems harmless, but it can result in a ticket and the loss of your vehicle to thieves counting on your false sense of security.”

According to NICB data, vehicle thefts where keys or fobs are left in the vehicle are a growing problem, increasing over the last two years. Of the 794,019 auto thefts in 2019, 84,131 of these had their keys left inside, or roughly 11% of total thefts nationwide. While NICB has not completed the analysis of theft with keys in 2020, the total is likely to be even greater than 2019, as auto thefts in 2020 showed an increase of 9.2% from last year’s overall tally, accounting for the most thefts in the past decade.

“Throughout my career with the FBI, from case agent to Assistant Director, strong partnerships proved an invaluable tool – not only in seeking justice, but in proactively preventing crime. As subject matter experts in vehicle-related crimes and frauds, NICB is proud to work with RMIA to warn consumers about the dangers of leaving a vehicle unlocked and/or leaving the keys or fobs inside a vehicle while unattended. Especially during the trying times many are experiencing as a result of the pandemic, starting with the simple steps to safeguard your vehicle is the best line of defense against would-be thieves,” said NICB Chief Operating Officer Timothy R. Slater.

Insurance will cover the theft of a vehicle – minus the deductible if you have comprehensive coverage. Comprehensive insurance is optional and covers loss due to theft and damages not caused by an accident. Analysis by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) shows that as of 2017, 22 percent of vehicle owners declined the optional comprehensive insurance. As a result, without the coverage they will have to pay for the theft out of their own pocket.

NICB and RMIIA advise drivers to:

  • Lock the vehicle, set the alarm, and take all keys or fobs.
  • Do not leave the garage door opener in the vehicle.
  • Take a picture of your registration on your cell phone and do not leave the registration or other papers with personal information in the vehicle.
  • Never leave a car unlocked and running to warm it up or while stopping for a quick cup of coffee. It only takes a moment for an opportunistic thief to jump inside and drive off.

The NICB has produced new public service announcements on this subject for both radio and television and in English and Spanish.

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