Are You “Puffing” Your Car?

Remote start app
Starting your car remotely while remaining locked is considered a safe alternative to leaving your keys in the car while it’s unattended, according to the NICB.
Photo credit Scharfsinn/

Winter is here - and has been for some for awhile already. It’s cold out - and no one wants to get into a freezing cold car on a bitter morning. We get it. You may be tempted to unlock your car, turn on the engine to warm up a bit with the keys inside, then head back inside. It’s a practice calling “puffing” - a term that comes from seeing a visual “puff” of exhaust coming out of the tailpipe during cold temps. But it’s not a good idea, because a car thief could end up riding off in your warm and cozy vehicle.

The National Insurance Crime Bureau warns against the practice and says more and more states and municipalities are passing laws banning “puffing,” making it illegal to leave a vehicle running and unlocked, even in your driveway. These days, the NICB says remote starters are usually considered a safe alternative. They allow you to start the engine while keeping the vehicle safely locked up without the presence of a key or fob.

Warming-up your vehicle could cost you
Credit: NICB

Vehicle Thefts

In 2019, NICB published a report on vehicle thefts with keys or fobs left with the vehicle. The FBI reported a total of 747,841 vehicle thefts in 2018. The NICB found that in 2018 a total of 81,911 vehicles were stolen with the keys or fobs left in them - 11% of the national total, and the real number could be much higher.

“We always warn consumers about the dangers of leaving a vehicle unlocked and not taking the fob or key with them, but leaving the car running with a key or fob in the vehicle is a prime target for an opportunistic thief,” said NICB Chief Operating Officer Jim Schweitzer.

Thousands of vehicles are stolen each year with the keys left inside. The NICB says many of them aren’t insured against theft. It’s not a bad idea to call your insurance company to make sure you have coverage if this were to happen to you.

To help prevent car theft, the NICB offers these tips:

  • Lock the vehicle, set the alarm, and take all keys or fobs.
  • Do not leave the garage door opener in the vehicle.
  • Take a picture of your registration on your cell phone, and do not leave the registration or other papers with personal information in the vehicle.
  • 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.
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