Preventing winter auto thefts

One of the perils of living in Michiana is having to hop into a cold car on a winter morning. To deal with this issue, a lot of people will go outside, fire up the engine, and come back out when they are ready to go. However, police say this is not a good idea.

A recent crime spree, which started with the theft of an automobile that had been left idling, illustrates this very point.

In late January a Plymouth man drove a stolen jeep into the St. Joe River in Mishawaka following a chase through South Bend's River Park neighborhood.

Police say before stealing that jeep in Bremen, the suspect had hopped into a running car that had been left unlocked and idling on a cold night at a South Bend speedway station.

The owner of that vehicle not only lost her car, which police later found torched, but the man also stole her pistol, which she left inside the vehicle.

According to one study, the peak months for auto thefts are July and August. The chances of your car being stolen are less likely in the dead of winter, discarding one big variable: when people warm up their cars in the morning.

Captain Phil Trent has been a police officer for 25 years. Every winter he sees this same mistake over and over again. People warm up their cars in the morning while still inside getting ready to take on the day. When they come outside they find their warm, toasty vehicle gone.

A similar scenario often occurs when people run into a convenience store with the engine left running.

Trent says, “It's that bad of an epidemic, especially early in the winter when the mornings are 20 to 25 degrees. It's really cold and people sort of forget.”

In November 2010, there were 19 motor vehicle thefts in South Bend. The average low temperature that month was just over 31 degrees.

The next month, December 2010, the average low temperature was at 19 degrees, and auto thefts rose to 23.

“A lot of people forget how to drive on the ice. Even though they grew up in South Bend, for that first couple of weeks of bad weather they sort of have to re-learn. People have to re-learn the fact that you don't leave your car unlocked, idling in the driveway for 20 minutes without something bad happening,” explains Trent.

By comparison, there is still a much higher chance your car will be stolen in the summer. In June, July, and August of last year, a total of 120 motor vehicle thefts were reported.

52 vehicles were stolen in December, January, and February. Trent says the winter theft numbers have been dropping over the years.

“Key-less entry and remote starters have helped the situation immensely. But prior to remote starters, people would go out to their car in the morning, turn the car on, walk away from it, go back in the house and let it warm up for ten minutes. We would see cars disappearing on a daily basis on a cold morning. On the bright side, it would be recovered within 24 to 48 hours. People wouldn't keep them long. They would just want a ride from point A to point B and abandon the car. We'd find it, but it's a problem that's still out there,” says Trent.

Even if your doors are locked and thieves can't drive off because your keys aren't in the ignition, the problem is some thieves will bust your driver's side window out, not knowing there's a remote starter.

The thieves may not get away with your car, but you have a very expensive car window to replace in the dead of winter, not to mention a driver's seat full of broken glass.

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