Baltimore County warn against leaving a running vehicle unattended

Police issued an alert about warm-up thefts.

As winter approaches, Baltimore County police are warning motorists not to leave their vehicles unattended when idling to warm up the cabin on cold days.

Criminals target those vehicles as a chance for an easy theft — the door is unlocked and the vehicle is already running, all a thief needs to do is put it in gear and drive away, police said.


Police on Monday announced a program in which officers across the region will place informational cards on the windshields of vehicles which they find running and unattended, reminding motorists not to do that.

Vehicle thefts related to warm-ups have been a problem in the Towson area in the past, Precinct 6 commander Capt. Jay Landsman Jr. said.


Landsman wasn't aware of any recent incidents, but said there have been just two cold mornings this season.

Would-be criminals travel through neighborhoods looking for exhaust coming from unattended vehicles, Landsman said.

"It only takes a split second and the car is gone," Landsman said.

Once a vehicle has been taken, it makes it easier from criminals move about and commit other crimes, Landsman said.

"We want to force them to work," Landsman said. "If they have to take time to pop an ignition, that gives us the opportunity to catch them."

The card program is an effort of the Maryland Vehicle Theft Prevention Council, county police, Maryland State Police, the Baltimore Regional Auto Theft Task Force, Baltimore City police and Anne Arundel County police.

Officers will start handing out the cards in the next few weeks, police spokesman Cpl. John Wachter said.

While idling your engine may allow the car's heating system to warm up the cabin, "warming up" the vehicle is not necessary in modern cars to bring the vehicle to its ideal operating temperature, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.


Driving the vehicle will help it reach that temperature, specified in the vehicle's owner's manual, more quickly. The car's interior will also warm more quickly by being driven, versus idling, according to the department.

While Wachter said the goal of the initiative is to change people's behavior without giving out tickets, the potential penalty for leaving a running vehicle unattended in Maryland is a $70 ticket and one point against a driver's record.

Exceptions are if the vehicle is started with a keyless entry system or if the vehicle is locked and on private property. In both cases, the law prohibits the vehicle from idling for more than five minutes.

Landsman also said people driving Dodge and Chrysler products, including Jeeps, may want to consider taking an extra step when locking their vehicle, such as a securing the wheel of their vehicle with a metal club. Historically older models of those vehicles have been targeted by thieves, Landsman said.

Those vehicles seem to be popular among thieves in the Towson area, Landsman added, because they are easier to break into and easier to start without keys.

Landsman also said no matter what season it is a bad idea to leave keys in your car.