AAA Texas warns drivers of "warm-up thefts" occurring in cold weather

According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB), automobile thefts across the U.S. have increased since the start of the pandemic. 

Although Texas doesn’t always see the harshest of winters, Texans do see bitter cold weather here and there. When it’s cold, it’s easy to want to warm up your car and wait inside until it’s toasty and ready to go. However, AAA Texas warns that warming up your car, and leaving it unattended, can result in theft.  

Car thieves have been identifying idol, unoccupied vehicles that are emitting white smoke, as a sign for action. 

AAA Texas says that there are steps drivers can take to protect their vehicles, and it’s usually not necessary to leave a car idling to warm up the engine when it comes to modern automobiles. 

It takes thieves only seconds to enter a vehicle and drive off with it. Leaving a vehicle unattended with the keys or fob inside should never happen, as auto theft is becoming more and more common, according to AAA Texas.

Unattended vehicle thefts with keys or fobs left inside made up 11% of all car thefts in 2018, or approximately 81,911, according to NICB.

"Thieves are opportunists and know that on a cold day, some people will leave their vehicle unattended while it warms up," said AAA Texas spokesperson, Daniel Armbruster. "Automobile thefts increase during colder months in part due to ‘warm-up thefts’, a crime that is easily prevented as most modern vehicles no longer require a long idling period to warm the engine."

AAA Texas recommends the following tips to avoid becoming an auto theft victim:

  • 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 the opportunistic thief to jump inside and drive off.
  • Start the engine and allow it to idle only for the time it takes you to fasten your seat belt. This ensures that lubricating oil gets to all the engine's vital parts. Driving the car normally and avoiding hard acceleration brings the engine to a warmer temperature faster, and also reduces wear and exhaust emissions.
  • Use anti-theft or automatic tracking devices. If your vehicle wasn’t equipped with an alarm or hidden tracking device when purchased, have one installed.
  • Never leave your keys in your vehicle, even at a gas station or at home.
  • Never hide a spare ignition key in your vehicle, including under floor mats, sun visor, etc.
  • Whenever possible, park your vehicle in a secure garage or a well-lit area at night.
  • Have windows VIN etched. Car window VIN etchings are small, but visible enough to deter thieves, according to law enforcement officials. Since car thieves frequently steal vehicles to sell off the automobile’s parts, a window that is VIN etched makes a vehicle less profitable for thieves and helps law enforcement recover stolen vehicles.

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