TYLER, Texas (KETK) — As the winter season causes temperatures to plummet, drivers around the country tend to make this mistake more often, and its consequences are devastating.

One of the biggest risks that comes with cold weather is one that most drivers are unaware of. This colder weather often leads to crimes of opportunity in driveways and parking lots, when thieves are on the lookout for white smoke coming from the exhaust of unattended vehicles that owners are warming up.

Additionally, grand theft auto has risen significantly across the country over the course of the pandemic, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB). In light of these statistics, AAA wants to remind Texas drivers that there are steps they can take to ensure that they don’t become a victim of this type of thievery.

First, AAA has stated that it’s usually not necessary to leave a vehicle idling to warm up the engine. According to NICB, unattended vehicle thefts with keys or fobs left inside occur so regularly that they accounted for 11%, or 81,911 cars, of all vehicle thefts in 2018.

In many instances, on cold days, some drivers will start their ignition and go back inside for only a few minutes while they wait for the engine and/or heater to warm up. What many of these drivers are unaware of is that it only takes a few seconds for a potential thief to get in the vehicle and take off before the owner realizes what is happening.

The bottom line is that drivers should never leave their vehicle unattended with the keys inside while running errands or even at home.

“Thieves are opportunists and know that on a cold day, some people will leave their vehicle unattended while it warms up. 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.”

Daniel Armbruster, AAA Texas spokesperson

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 of 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.