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Published: Feb 13, 2015 3 min read
empty parking space and snow
Riitta Supperi—Getty Images

There's a big reason you shouldn't start your car up in the driveway and head back inside while it warms up. Why? Doing so makes it incredibly easy for someone to steal your car. Hundreds of people around the country have been learning this hard lesson over the past couple months.

Think about how often, once the weather turns cold, people start their vehicles and leave the car unlocked with the keys in the ignition for 10 minutes or so before the morning commute. It doesn't take a brilliant criminal mind to take advantage of this all-too-common scenario. All that thieves need to do is patrol the neighborhoods looking for cars that are running with no one behind the wheel. Before you know it, they're driving away in someone else's vehicle, no hotwiring or carjacking required.

Reports of cars being stolen out of driveways while warming up started surfacing around Thanksgiving in Arkansas, when nine vehicles were swiped during a two-week period. During the first few chilly weeks of 2015, dozens of such thefts have popped up in a long list of cities, including Albuquerque, Indianapolis, Boise, Wichita, Anchorage, Toronto, and even smaller towns like Hamilton, N.J. Mind you, isolated cars thefts rarely make the news; each of the above links put locals on notice that there's been a rash of ripoffs—often a dozen, sometimes many more.

Police in Kansas City recently estimated that roughly 200 unattended vehicles with keys left inside have been stolen this winter. The thefts usually take place in residential areas curbside or in the owner's driveway, but criminals are also known to stake out convenience stores and gas stations waiting for someone to leave a car running for a moment.

In some states—including Kansas—it's actually illegal to have a car running with no one inside. However, local police say they can't cite anyone for a traffic violation on private property, such as the owner's driveway.

In any event, the obvious moral to the story here is: Don't give thieves such an easy opportunity to steal your car! If you must warm up your car, do it with a remote starter or use a separate valet key, so that the door can remain locked while the vehicle is unoccupied. Or just, you know, suck it up and sit in a cold car. Put on an extra layer of clothing if you need to. It's winter, after all.

Read next: 23 Tricks to Save Thousands on Your Car