LANSING, Mich. (Michigan News Source) – The term “puffing” is probably a word that most folks have never heard of, at least not when it’s described in the context of auto theft – but winter weather ushers in “Puffing Season” across much of the United States. Because of that, the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) encourages vehicle owners to think twice before leaving their vehicles running unattended.

“Puffing,” or leaving a car running unattended, is a common practice of drivers during both summer and winter months. It can be tempting to leave a vehicle running during a quick errand or getting ready in the morning, but while this seemingly harmless action seems low risk, the statistics tell a different story. Criminals are ready and waiting to hop in and take off with a vehicle in a matter of minutes.

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The growing popularity of thefts with keys left inside the vehicle should sound an alarm to drivers as temperatures drop and the urge to leave cars warming up rises.

A recent NICB report analyzed vehicle theft data from 2019 through 2021 and found an increase of more than 20% in thefts facilitated by keys. This also includes vehicle thefts where key fobs were left inside the vehicle. By the end of 2021, just over 100,000 thefts facilitated by keys or key fobs were reported nationally. This total accounts for 11% of vehicle thefts of all types reported in the U.S. in 2021.

Thefts trends by month demonstrate stolen vehicles with keys left in the vehicle are seasonally driven. Thefts with keys are lower in months with more moderate temperatures and rise with lower temperatures. One reason for this seasonal rise in thefts is “puffing.”

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Carole Walker, Executive Director of Rocky Mountain Insurance Association (RMIA). “Providing the added incentive to a thief by leaving your car puffing makes it an easy target for what is often a crime of opportunity.”

All types of vehicle thefts are increasing, but common-sense steps can help prevent an easy steal like leaving keys in the vehicle or unattended. Car owners should make sure they’re insured properly by purchasing comprehensive insurance coverage. NICB and the Rocky Mountain Insurance Association recommend the following tips to help protect vehicle owners:

  • 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. It only takes a moment for an opportunistic thief to jump inside and drive off.

Luckily for Michigan drivers, leaving keys in a vehicle while it’s sitting a driveway is no longer against the law. 2017 legislation cancelled out part of an earlier law that allowed police to ticket Michiganders who left keys in their vehicles in their own driveways and on private property. However, you can still be ticketed for doing so on public streets.

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