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Car owners should stop puffing to protect their cars from theft


“Puffers” attract thieves. The PA Auto Theft Prevention Authority (ATPA) warns drivers not to leave their cars unlocked, unattended, and running — “puffing” to warm up this winter and throughout the year.

 More than 13,000 cars were stolen in Pennsylvania last year.

“The most effective anti-theft tool is to lock your car and take your keys,” said Steve Wheeler, ATPA’s executive director. “It’s not a fancy message. It’s common sense, but not common practice.” ATPA’s grantees estimate nearly 50 percent of stolen cars were left unlocked, often with the keys inside.

 ATPA’s website shows surveillance video of stolen cars from around the state, including a cab stolen from a mini-mart. Puffers are left warming up in the winter, cooling down in the summer, and many drivers routinely leave their cars running and unattended while they run inside a convenience store to get a cup of coffee.

 “It only take seconds for a thief to steal a car,” said Mr. Wheeler. “No one thinks it will happen to them.” ATPA is providing ice scrapers with a “No Puffers” message and posters to police departments and community groups who would like to distribute them. Mr. Wheeler and his team are also taking a stripped car across the state to show what it looks like when a car is stolen and stripped for parts.

 Auto theft has a ripple effect. Stolen cars are often used to commit other violent crimes that im-pact the community. If you leave mail, bills, work files, other sensitive information, house keys or garage door opener in your car, you are now also vulnerable to identity theft or burglary of your home.

 Following these simple, common sense tips, at home, work, or while on vacation, can spare you the hassle and expense of having your car stolen:

• Lock the car, take the keys, every time. For most drivers, it’s a habit to either leave the keys in the car, or to take them. If it’s not a habit, everyone should consciously make the decision to double check that they have their keys as they walk away from the vehicle. No place is safe from vehicle theft, even a driveway.

• No puffing: Do not leave a car running and unattended. While it’s tempting to let the heater keep the car warm while running into grab a cup of coffee, it only takes a thief a few seconds to steal a car. It is illegal to leave a car running and unattended on a public road in Pennsylvania.

 • Don’t leave valuables in the car. Leaving cell phones, mail, garage door openers, wallets, computers, or other valuables in the car attracts thieves. Leaving mail and sensitive information in your car also leaves drivers vulnerable to identity theft. Leaving keys and garage door openers can also invite burglary to their home.

ATPA’s partner, AAA, urges motorists to inquire with their auto insurance agent about discounts for anti-theft and/or vehicle recovery devices. “Pennsylvania is one of nine states that requires insurers to provide car owners with discounts on comprehensive insurance rates for anti-theft devices,” said Jana L. Tidwell, manager of Public and Government Affairs for AAA Mid-Atlantic. “This discount is applied when the vehicle has an activated factory or after-market recovery device or tracking system such as GM’s On-Star system, LoJack, or Teletrac. Such devices have been quite successful in not only recovering stolen vehicles, but also leading law enforcement to chop shops and thwarting the export of stolen cars.”

According to Pennsylvania state insurance guidelines, if the anti-theft device is factory installed the VIN number should trigger the discount. If the anti-theft device was installed after-market, proof on installation (usually in the form of an installation receipt) will be required to receive the discount.

In addition, AAA reiterates that puffing is unnecessary when it comes to a car’s ability to perform on the road.

“Today’s automobiles have fuel injection systems rather than carburetors so they do not need a long warm up time to keep from having drivability concerns,” notes Ms. Tidwell. “Even in very cold temperatures, modern vehicles (those built since 1990) require no more than 10 to 30 seconds to get the oil moving through the engine. Puffing vehicles serve no purpose in terms of performance, but rather simply warm up the inside temperature for the driver and passengers.”


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