Puffing, An Open Invitation to Car Thieves

Are you making your vehicle a target for theft? As the weather gets colder, many drivers will want to warm up their vehicles before hitting the road. It may seem like a good idea to start the car, blast the heat, and wait inside your home until it’s time to leave, but it can also be a dangerous one. In fact, in some states and municipalities, warming up a vehicle and leaving it unattended is illegal.


During the winter, thieves are on the lookout for vehicles that are “puffing”. "Puffing" refers to the practice of leaving a vehicle running while unattended. As the vehicle’s exhaust runs, it will actually emit puffs of steam when warming up, making it an easy target for thieves to spot. With no one around to stop them, and the key already in the ignition, criminals only need to hop in and drive off. 

Unfortunately, insurance may not cover the cost of the theft because it was the owner that left the vehicle running. It’s important to contact insurers or agents to make sure you have the appropriate coverage in case the unthinkable happens. Thankfully, there is a solution. Remote starters allow car owners to start the engine while keeping the vehicle safely locked up, without the presence of a key or fob. 

The National Insurance Crime Bureau is reminding consumers about the dangers of leaving a vehicle unlocked and not taking the key or fob with them. Data shows that in 2019, 84,131 vehicles were stolen with the keys left inside. Don’t make your vehicle an easy target. 

Tips to Prevent Auto Theft This Winter:  

  • 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. It only takes a moment for an 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 www.nicb.org.