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AAA Northern New England Warns Drivers Not to Become a Victim of “Warm-Up Theft”


The cold winter months can bring challenges on the roadway such as ice, snow and blustery winds. But there’s another risk that drivers may be unaware of. Colder weather can also lead to crimes of opportunity in driveways and parking lots because thieves often look for the white smoke coming from the exhaust of unattended vehicles that owners are warming up. Add to that, automobile thefts have increased significantly across the U.S. since the start of the pandemic according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB). AAA Northern New England reminds drivers there are steps they can take to protect their property and when it comes to modern vehicles, it’s usually not necessary to leave a vehicle idling to warm up the engine.


“Thieves are opportunists and know that on a cold day, some people will leave their vehicle unattended while it warms up,” said Pat Moody, manager of public affairs for AAA Northern New England. “Automobile thefts increase during colder months in part due to ‘warm-up thefts’, a crime that is easily preventable.”


According to NICB, unattended vehicle thefts with keys or fobs left inside the vehicle occur so frequently that they made up 11% of all vehicle thefts in 2018 or approximately 81,911 vehicles stolen. On cold days, some drivers start their ignition and then go back inside for a few minutes to allow the engine and/or heater to warm up. Many aren’t aware it takes thieves only a few seconds to jump in the vehicle and take off. Drivers should never leave their vehicle unattended with the keys inside while running errands or even at home.


"Locking your vehicle every time you leave it, even in your driveway always mitigates your chances of becoming a victim of a motor vehicle burglary were items such as handbags, wallets, cell phones, GPS units, and cash can quickly be removed from your vehicle day or night", said Lt. Pat Hood with Troop D of the Maine State Police.


AAA 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.


As North America’s largest motoring and leisure travel organization, AAA provides more than 62 million members with travel, insurance, financial, and automotive-related services.  Operating 18 offices throughout Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, AAA Northern New England is a not-for-profit, fully tax-paying corporation and serves as an advocate for the safety and security of all travelers.  AAA Northern New England can be visited on the Internet at

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AAA Northern New England is a member club affiliated with the American Automobile Association (AAA) national federation and serves members in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont.