April 12th, 2024

Running vehicles easy target for thieves as temperatures drop

By Steffanie Costigan - Lethbridge Herald Local Journalism Initiative Reporter on November 9, 2023.

Herald photo Experts warn motorist leaving your ride running to warm up as temperatures drop heading into winter leaves vehicles vulnerable to eager thieves.

With temperatures dropping as winter nears, it is common for folks to preheat their vehicles by leaving them running before departure. This leaves vehicles vulnerable to eager thieves.

Dominic Schamuhn, manager of advocacy for the Alberta Motor Association said recently that statistically Alberta has the second highest rate of auto theft in Canada.

“More than one in five of the thefts that take place in the country, take place here in Alberta. And so that breaks down to about 57 thefts of a vehicle every single day. And those are in many cases, they are preventable crimes, not in all instances, but in many cases, they are preventable crimes and 57 Albertans a day are impacted by this,” said Schamuhn.

Local resident Tyler Spotted Bull voiced his experience while visiting with family in Calgary how his vehicle was stolen after he had left it to warm up to grab his belongings inside. He’d only left his car running for only minutes.

“I’ve never had issues with the worry on my car and having anyone look into it, or anyone, obviously tried to take it. And so I was pretty comfortable going out and starting my vehicle, because it was so cold at night that it needed extra time to warm up. I went out, I started my car, and someone just came by while I went inside to go grab my coat, and my phone. And they took the vehicle. It happened within five minutes,” shared Spotted Bull.

Lethbridge Police Services told The Herald how common warm-up thefts are even when a neighbourhood is believed to be safe.

“Warm-up thefts are crimes of opportunity where thieves target vehicles that are left running and unattended. Vehicles that are left running with their keys inside can be stolen in a matter of seconds. These kinds of thefts can happen anywhere, even if you believe the area you are in is secure,” said LPS in a statement

Spotted Bull said he was in shock when he discovered his vehicle had been stolen.

“I was just kind of taken aback a little bit. I kind of closed the door, looked out the back of (my relatives) house, and I didn’t see my vehicle. I went outside and couldn’t see my vehicle down the street, across the street. And it just dawned on me that, ‘wow, my vehicle was just stolen.'”

Schamuhn noted how easy it is for thieves to steal a running vehicle that is left unattended and listed solutions for car owners to safely heat their vehicles without have their cars stolen.

“If you’re leaving your vehicle running, that’s something that if they see, they’re not going to pass by the easy job. It’s important for all of us to keep that in mind, we all want to have a warm vehicle to get into, but there are ways to do that, whether it’s parking inside of a garage, or purchasing a remote starter. There are solutions that allow you to keep your vehicle safer, and to be warm at the same time,” said Schamuhn.

Lethbridge Police Service echoed similar safety measures to secure vehicles from falling victim to theft.

“Never leave a running vehicle unattended if the keys are inside,” says LPS.

Police also advise to use a remote starter to ensure vehicles are warmed up safely which won’t giving thieves an opportunity to seal.

“Historically, when the temperatures drop, we tend to see an increase in warm-up thefts. The good news is, they are preventable, and we encourage residents to take the necessary steps to safeguard their vehicles,” said LPS.

Police also advise people to never leave any children or pets in a running vehicle that is unattended. They said the use of a steering wheel lock can also discourage thieves from taking a vehicle.

Spotted Bull said he reported his vehicle being stolen to the RCMP in Calgary and followed up with the Lethbridge police to see if there had been any updates.

“The next day, which was a Sunday, I got a call from the police in the morning saying that they found my vehicle and it was in a ditch. Whoever was driving it got sucked off the road,” said Spotted Bull.

LPS also recommend people not leave spare keys or a garage door accessible to outsiders nor to leave any valuables inside vehicles and to keep doors locked. Schamuhn pointed out stolen vehicles are often used in committing other crimes.

“It’s concerning as well, because one of the things that we know is the vehicles that are stolenare often not an isolated crime. They are stolen as a sequence of events in committing other crimes.

“And if your vehicle is stolen, unfortunately, we hear all too often that those stolen vehicles are then used in subsequent crimes, impacting more and more Albertans that at each step, and so it’s really important for all of us to take the few extra seconds, make sure your valuables are removed, make sure your vehicle is locked,” said Schamuhn.

Lethbridge police say if anyone witnesses suspicious activity in their neighbourhood to call the police at 403-328-4444 or 911. Spotted Bull warns others to invest in safety measures to protect vehicles from falling prey to theft.

“My advice would be to invest in a command search system or make sure your vehicle has the means to law could solve with the key in the ignition and have a spare key with you. That way the vehicle can be locked it can be running be warming up, but you know that there’s that added security and or invest in a garage because it happened way too quick.”

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