It’s Called “Puffing,” and It Marks Your Car for Theft

Winter weather is starting to hit most of the country. With that, some drivers might be tempted to warm up their vehicles before hitting the road. But starting your car, cranking up the heat, and going back inside your home could cost you. Yep, that’s right. In some states and municipalities, warming-up your unlocked and unattended vehicle is called “puffing,” and it could be illegal in your area.  


However, there is a solution. Remote starters that allow you to start the engine while keeping the vehicle safely locked up without the presence of a key or fob are usually considered a safe alternative. For example, if you start your vehicle and scrape off snow or ice from your windshield, you should be just fine. However, if you leave only for a minute, it could cost you a hefty fine in some areas of the nation.  

The NICB always warns 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.  

Thousands of vehicles are stolen each year with the keys left inside. Many of those cars are not insured against theft, and the owner is left footing the bill for a new vehicle. As we begin the new year, we encourage you to contact your insurer or agent to make sure you have the appropriate coverage in case the unthinkable happens.  

Most importantly, we can’t stress enough the importance of locking your car and taking the fob or keys with you.  

Puffing Tips

NICB advises drivers to: 

  • 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. 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. 

Anyone with information concerning insurance fraud or vehicle theft can report it anonymously by calling toll-free 800.TEL.NICB (800.835.6422) or submitting a form on our website.

About the National Insurance Crime Bureau: Headquartered in Oak Brook, Ill., the NICB is the nation's leading not-for-profit organization exclusively dedicated to combatting and preventing insurance crime through Intelligence, Analytics, and Operations; Education and Crime Prevention; and Strategy, Policy, and Advocacy. The NICB is supported by more than 1,200 property-casualty insurers, self-insureds, rental car, vehicle finance, and auto auctions. To learn more, visit