Snuff the puff: Police warn drivers about idling cars in winter |

Snuff the puff: Steamboat police warn drivers about idling cars

Winter months tend to be prime for “puffing,” when drivers leave their vehicles idling and unattended. The practice also leads to a spike in motor vehicle thefts. (File photo)

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS —  Routt County residents who regularly wake up to near-zero or even sub-zero temperatures during the winter months may be tempted to start their vehicles and leave them unattended until they warm up.

But, Colorado law prohibits this practice — called “puffing” — unless cars have a remote-start system. Police can issue citations for idling vehicles without a driver behind the wheel.

The law is meant to prevent vehicle thefts, which have increased by almost 60 percent in the state during the last four years, according to law enforcement.

Steamboat Springs Police Department officers recorded 10 motor vehicle thefts in 2018.

At a glance

Tips from police:
• Do not leave idling vehicles unattended. Even people with remote-start vehicles who can legally idle their car for up to five minutes should remain vigilant.
• Always lock vehicles.
• Never leave anything valuable inside a vehicle.
• If you see something suspicious, report it to police.

Sgt. Rich Brown with the Steamboat Police Department said nine times out of 10, someone left the key in the vehicle before it was stolen.

“We don’t generally see vehicles that are hot wired,” Brown said.

Instead, local car thefts tend to be crimes of opportunity.

During the winter months, especially when temperatures plummet at night, Brown said people find a car with a key inside and drive it a short distance to a destination in town.

“They just don’t want to walk in the cold,” Brown said.

In those cases, police can usually recover the vehicle.

The other scenario involves car thieves who take stolen vehicles to chop shops in the Front Range and sell the parts. Brown has not seen as many of those cases.

“It’s rare that the vehicles are taken somewhere else,” he said.

An exception occurred last week when a man stole a shuttle bus owned by the Resort Lodging Company, a local vacation home rental agency.

The driver of the bus had parked the vehicle at an automotive repair shop. He left the keys in the bus so that mechanics could work on it in the morning. When employees arrived at the repair shop in the morning, the bus had disappeared.

Police in Lehi, Utah, found the vehicle a few days later at a convenience store.

It appears the man did not plan to sell the vehicle for its parts. He told Utah police he had been trying to reach the West Coast, so he could sail around the world.

Another issue concerns people who leave valuable items in their cars.

Detective Sgt. Jeff Wilson with the Steamboat Police Department said he has seen an uptick in vehicle trespassing crimes in recent months. These include incidents when someone breaks into a vehicle, mostly to take items inside.

He said most cases involve cars that have been left unlocked overnight.

“History has shown that, if a vehicle is unlocked, people will enter the vehicle and see if there’s anything easy they can take,” Wilson said.

Officers were called about two reports of such thefts Tuesday, which included the theft of a laptop from one unlocked vehicle and a purse from another.

Law enforcement officials advise people to lock their vehicles and to never leave anything valuable inside.

Officers also urge people not to leave their cars unattended with the key inside.

Even if people use a remote-start system to warm their vehicles, drivers should stay near their cars to ensure that no one breaks in. Colorado law limits the time people may idle any vehicle to five minutes.

To reach Derek Maiolo, call 970-871-4247, email or follow him on Twitter @derek_maiolo.

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