Car thieves target idling cars

It’s something anyone who lives is a cold climate has probably done–gone outside to turn the car on to defrost and warm up, and then gone back into the house or apartment.

With the cold weather gripping much of the nation, thousands of drivers are starting their cars and leaving them idling for a few minutes while they warm up on these frigid mornings, but police say it’s a bad idea because it creates a crime of opportunity for thieves. Just this month, several dozen cars in six states were stolen as their drivers left them idling in driveways or on the street. Eleven cars were stole in a single morning in Indianapolis earlier this week.

This type of crime usually spikes in the winter months. In St. Louis, 16% more cars were stolen in January 2014 than the previous years. Officials are worried because the crimes usually occur in the mornings when students are waiting for school buses and the thieves will take off at a high rate of speed, endangering anyone in their path. In some areas, gangs of thieves are watching drivers start their cars and then swoop in to steal several cars in a single neighborhood.

A check with several national insurers shows that cars stolen while idling will still be covered by insurers for theft, although authorities recommend against leaving a car running without anyone in it, because the driver may be violating some local ordinances that could result in a ticket or fine, or in some cities even imprisonment. Most fines run between $100 to $500, and some states start at $500 and go as high as $2,500.

Several states limit acceptable idling times to anywhere from three to 15 minutes in a given hour. In Minneapolis, drivers may leave their cars idling if they need to “operate defrosters, heaters or air conditioners to prevent a safety or health emergency.” If the outside temperature falls below zero degrees or higher than 90 degrees, cars may idle for up to 15 minutes without a ticket.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, most of today’s cars do not require more than 30 seconds to warm up. If a car will be sitting for longer than 10 seconds, it will require less gas to restart the car than to leave it idling for several minutes. An idling car can burn as much as a half-gallon of gas in an hour, so turning the car off is more fuel efficient and causes less air pollution.

Police in St. Louis say that if drivers must leave their cars idling, they should have two sets of keys so the car can be locked while running and the extra set can be used to unlock the door when the driver leaves. Remote car starters also allow drivers to start their cars while locked and require the key be in the ignition before it can even be put into drive, making it harder for thieves to steal.

Jan 30, 2015 | By Patricia L. Harman

 

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