About 1 in 3 Colorado motorists don’t know that it’s illegal to leave a vehicle unattended while running – even on a frigid morning before driving to work or school, according to Coloradans Against Auto Theft (CAAT).
The offending vehicles are known as “puffer cars.”
“Yes, this is a problem,” said Montezuma County Sheriff Steve Nowlin. “We have had many vehicles stolen from our residents and visitors because of puffer cars.”
The Montezuma County Sheriff’s Office is part of Beat Auto Theft Through Law Enforcement, or BATTLE team, and Nowlin said that deputies would be conducting “puffer patrols” throughout the winter.
“We want to prevent auto thefts and educate our citizens to the dangers,” Nowlin said.
According to CAAT officials, the term “puffer car” came about because of the clear message that’s sent to would-be car thieves as a result of the smoke that emits from exhaust pipes on cold days.
“Auto theft is a matter of public safety,” Colorado State Patrol Chief Col. Scott Hernandez warned in a statement. “Warming up a car on a winter day may not seem like a big risk in the moment, but the result is all too often providing easy, free transportation to a car thief intent on committing serious, violent crimes including bank robberies, homicides and home invasions.”
Although Montezuma County sheriff’s deputies won’t issue citations for puffer violations, Nowlin also issued a strong warning.
“If your vehicle is stolen while left unattended, there is a strong possibility that your auto insurance will not pay for your loss,” he said.
A grant from the Colorado Auto Theft Prevention Authority has helped fund a public awareness campaign aimed to reduce auto theft through a common sense approach: “Lock It or Lose It.”
In a 2014 survey by Talmey-Drake Research, 70 percent of Coloradans indicated that an unattended running car is a top way that cars get stolen, yet nearly a quarter of respondents indicated that they’ve done it.
“Puffers” accounted for nearly 15 percent of all auto thefts in 2013, averaging seven stolen vehicles per day, 35 per week. Not surprisingly, cold-season months, with the peak month being January, produced the highest number of “puffer” thefts, CATT said.
For more information, including a map that indicates the safety of your neighborhood, visit LockdownYourCar.org.