Puffing & Leaving Keys in Cars Increases Vehicle Thefts

Winter weather ushers in “Puffing Season” across much of the U.S., and the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) encourages vehicle owners to think twice before leaving their vehicles running unattended. The growing popularity of thefts with keys left inside the vehicle should sound an alarm to drivers as temperatures drop and the urge to leave cars warming up rises.

“Puffing,” or leaving your car running unattended, is a common practice of drivers during both summer and winter months. It can be tempting to leave a vehicle running during a quick errand or getting ready in the morning, but while this seemingly harmless action seems low risk, the statistics tell a different story. Criminals are ready and waiting to hop in and take off with a vehicle in a matter of minutes.

A recent NICB report analyzed vehicle theft data from 2019 through 2021 and found an increase of more than 20% in thefts facilitated by keys. This also includes vehicle thefts where key fobs were left inside the vehicle. By the end of 2021, just over 100,000 thefts facilitated by keys or key fobs were reported nationally. This total accounts for 11% of vehicle thefts of all types reported in the U.S. in 2021.

Thefts trends by month demonstrate stolen vehicles with keys left in the vehicle are seasonally driven. Thefts with keys are lower in months with more moderate temperatures and rise with lower temperatures. One reason for this seasonal rise in thefts is “puffing.”

“With auto theft spiking across the U.S. and Colorado ranked 1st in the Nation per capita for car theft, the odds of having your car stolen already don’t work in your favor,” says Carole Walker, Executive Director of Rocky Mountain Insurance Association (RMIA). “Providing the added incentive to a thief by leaving your car puffing makes it an easy target for what is often a crime of opportunity,” Walker said.

All types of vehicle thefts are increasing, but common-sense steps can help prevent an easy steal like leaving keys in the vehicle or unattended. Car owners should make sure they’re insured properly by purchasing comprehensive insurance coverage. NICB and RMIA recommend the following tips to help protect vehicle owners:

  • 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. It only takes a moment for an opportunistic thief to jump inside and drive off.

“These types of thefts are textbook crimes of opportunity,” said NICB President and CEO David J. Glawe. “Vehicle owners think they are safe, but in the blink of an eye, an opportunistic thief can drive off with their car before they even know what has happened.”

If you believe you have been a victim of fraud, call the NICB at 1-800-TEL-NICB. For additional information, visit NICB’s website, www.NICB.org.