Cold weather emboldens car thieves in DC metro area

Car thieves are using the cold weather as an advantage in stealing local cars, but police offer quick tips on how to avoid being a victim. Photo: (AP)

WASHINGTON, January 9, 2014 — At least one county in Maryland is reporting an increase in vehicle thefts that can be directly attributed to the cold weather. In what is believed to be the most common form of the crime, thieves steal cars that have been left on to heat up while vehicle owners remain indoors. According to police, many types of “remote start” vehicles, which can be turned on from a distance, are also susceptible to this type of car theft.

Last Tuesday, at the height of the weather phenomenon known as the polar vortex, Prince George’s county police reported that a minimum of four vehicles were stolen, all of them briefly unattended while owners remained indoors while the cars heated up. In most cases, the cars were stolen early in the morning, likely when the car owners were preparing to go to work.

“It’s cold outside, but whatever you do, don’t leave your car unattended,” said Officer Harry Bond, a spokesman for Prince George’s County police, to the Washington Post. “It only takes a few seconds for a thief to take you belongings inside the car or take your vehicle.”

Of course, leaving a car on to heat up is not only risky in terms of vehicle theft, it’s also illegal. Local police have been ticketing unattended vehicles with fines of nearly $70.

Experts at the Chicago Tribune believe that starting up a car before you are ready to drive it is a waste of time, saying “Many drivers use or are tempted by remote start devices that will allow the car to warm oil, clear windows and provide a comfy interior temperature. 

“The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency suggests that whether via remote or actually climbing in and starting the engine yourself, letting a car idle to warm up hurts fuel economy.”

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