Public Safety

Do you leave your car running to warm up? Police say that's a great way to get your car stolen


How many of us have gotten up in the morning, gone outside to turn our cars on to warm up and gone back inside to get ready for work, leaving the car running with the keys in the ignition?

It’s a pretty common practice in places like Iowa, where nighttime winter temperatures drop below freezing and cars become encased in snow and ice.

It could also get your car stolen.

According to the Cedar Rapids Police Department, more than 47 percent of vehicle thefts or vehicles driven without owner consent in 2019 involved vehicles that were either left unlocked, left running or had the keys inside. That’s 199 of the 444 incidents reported last year.

In 2018 there were a total of 444 vehicle thefts, an increase from the 357 vehicle thefts reported in 2017, according to the Cedar Rapids Police Department 2018 annual report, while thefts from motor vehicles dropped from 752 in 2017 to 725 last year.

“A vast majority of these thefts are preventable,” said public safety spokesperson Greg Buelow. “In many cases, the vehicle is left running unattended and unlocked in the driveway, on the street or in front of a convenience store. Further, many vehicles stolen have spare keys left inside the vehicle.”

Just last week, Buelow said the police department fielded four reports of stolen vehicles over the course of three days. Three of those incidents occurred on Jan. 16 and another took place on Jan. 19.

The first vehicle, Buelow said, was reported stolen around 6:45 a.m. on Jan. 16 in the 10 block of Roxbury Drive NW. Police said vehicle was parked in front of the victim’s residence warming up unattended, unlocked and with the keys inside.


Approximately nine hours later — at 3:15 p.m. — the vehicle owner located the stolen car near the 100 block of Harbet Avenue NW. The keys were still missing, police said.

A few hours later, a second vehicle was reported stolen, Buelow said.

This one was taken from the victim’s driveway in the 5400 block of First Avenue NW. Again, Buelow said, the vehicle was left unlocked with the keys inside. That vehicle was found later that day — at about 3:10 p.m. — in the parking lot of Pheasant Run Apartments, 450 Hilltop Drive SW. The keys could not be found.

A third vehicle was stolen that afternoon. Police said the theft was reported at about 3:40 p.m. on Jan. 16 in the 1100 block of Third Street SW.

Investigators are still looking for that vehicle.

On Jan. 19, police received word at about noon that a fourth vehicle had been stolen from the Econo Lodge at 622 33rd Avenue SW. Police said the victim reported not being able to locate the vehicle’s key. Police said the car was likely unlocked when it was taken.

But of particular concern, police said, is the number of firearms that are stolen from vulnerable vehicles.

In 2019, Buelow said, there were 628 incidents of theft from vehicles, and in 24 of those thefts, guns were taken. In total, police said, 26 handguns and two shotguns were stolen out of vehicles. Most of which were unlocked. In 2018, 34 firearms were stolen from 30 vehicles.

In at least 20 states, leaving a car running, unattended for an extended period of time is illegal.

In Minneapolis, Minnesota, for instance, it’s illegal to let a car idle for more than three minutes in a one-hour period, or for more than 15 consecutive minutes in any one-hour period when temperatures are at zero or below, according to the Star Tribune.

In Washington, D.C. motorists can get fined $5,000 if your car is sitting around for just three minutes. Other states, are a little more relaxed. In Pennsylvania, for example, the law states you can idle for 20 minutes when the temperature is below 40 degrees.

Iowa was once included in that list of states that outlawed leaving cars to idle, Buelow said.


But in 2017 the century-old law was amended, allowing for vehicles to be left running and unattended. The impetus, Buelow said, was the development of remote-start technology, which allows motorists to start their vehicles remotely from outside the car while keeping the vehicle doors locked and the keys safe with the owner.

In general, theft of motor vehicle increased by 18 percent compared to the city’s five-year average, Buelow said.

That’s why the Cedar Rapids Police Department zeroed in on what they call the “9 p.m. routine,” last year. Using social media, the department posted a daily reminder on its Facebook page reminding residents to lock their cars and doors and make sure no valuables were left overnight in the vehicle.

Cedar Rapids Police Chief Wayne Jerman has previously told The Gazette most thefts are crimes of opportunity, where property owners have failed to secure their belongings.

Thieves are looking for those easy opportunities, he said, and a vehicle left running unattended, unlocked and/or with the keys inside would probably be too good to pass up.

“All it takes is securing our homes, our vehicles and our belongings to take away those opportunities,” he told The Gazette.

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