4 July 2022

Leave your car warming up in your driveway? That could cost you big time

| James Coleman
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Car on driveway

Last winter, 21 vehicles were reported stolen from Canberra driveways while unattended and running. Photo: Humphrey Muleba.

It’s tempting – and if we’re being honest, we’ve probably all done it.

The frigid night has left your car windows covered in ice, but rather than sitting there waiting for the water and windscreen wipers to do their thing, you’ve just remembered something you’ve left in the house and raced back inside.

But more people are coming back outside to find their car gone, with no hope of getting it back. And insurance won’t cover the loss.

Last winter, at least 21 vehicles were stolen while they were outside ACT homes, warming up and defrosting, without the driver present.

READ ALSO Chances are you’ll rarely start the engine in new plug-in Lexus

Police are reminding drivers that thieves are again targeting idling vehicles, with some even watching homes and keeping records of vehicles left running while unattended, aiming to return to steal them in the future.

Detective Acting Inspector Jason Dziubinski from the Proactive Intervention and Diversion Team said – despite annual messages – people continue to leave vehicles unattended.

“Only last week, we had a defrosting vehicle stolen from the front of a home in Campbell. This vehicle was then used in a string of other serious offences throughout the morning,” he said.

There isn’t even insurance to back you up – cover is voided if the key is left in the car.

Car theif notes

Notes of a car thief. Photo: ACT Policing.

Modern keyless entry systems might give you the means to start the car, leave it running and walk away with the key still in your pocket. But even this doesn’t give protection – the display will beep and say ‘Key not detected’, but the car can still be driven away.

“We are again urging drivers to remain in their vehicle for the few minutes it takes to properly defrost the windows. If you need to clear your windows in a hurry, free ice scrapers are available at all police stations,” Detective Acting Inspector Dziubinski said.

Drivers are also being reminded it is an offence, and a very dangerous act, to drive with foggy or icy windows. It also carries a $205 fine.

READ ALSO Top 10 tips for driving in the cold and wet

Senior Constable Aaron Cherry from ACT Road Policing said all vehicles must have clear windscreens, side windows and rear windows before driving off.

“Modern vehicles are set up to reasonably quickly defrost and demist windows. If you leave the [air-conditioning] settings on auto – in most cases, it is just a few minutes for all windows to become clear,” he said.

“If you only partially remove the frost, or drive off while there is still mist on the inside of the windows, then you are putting yourself, your passengers and other road users at risk.”

View from behind car windscreen

Use your air-conditioning to clear mist on the windscreen, not just the fan. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

Defrosting will continue to be part of the Canberra winter package, but do we have to warm up our cars anymore?

Brad Bodrick is the service manager at Canberra Toyota Fyshwick and has a simple answer, “No”.

“If you look at the owner’s manuals for older cars, they had warm-up procedures mainly because the old carburettor-based engines couldn’t mix the fuel and air as precisely as modern direct-injection systems,” he says.

Not only do modern engines take longer to warm up if left idling, they also use a lot more fuel.

READ ALSO Hidden treasures in car exhausts hot target for Canberra’s opportunistic thieves

“They idle [at higher revs] higher and pump a lot more fuel to ensure there’s no spluttering, so the longer it’s warming up, the more fuel it’s going to use,” Brad says.

The warm-up process is incredibly hard on the engine, such that Brad says if you were to put two cars next to each other, one that only does short trips and one that never stops (like a taxi), the latter would be much healthier.

“Here at Toyota, we consider short trips to require severe maintenance on the car. Instead of changing the oil every 15,000 km, we’d want to do it every 7500 km because they halve the service life of the oil.”

As long as the windows aren’t frosted up, Brad recommends starting the car, waiting 10 to 15 seconds to let the oil circulate in the engine before gently driving off.

“As long as you don’t race the engine or put it under huge amounts of load, it will save you in the long term.”

The solution? Grab a free ice scraper from police stations in the ACT and Queanbeyan.

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My partner’s car can be started remotely with the car remaining locked. Before it can be driven, it needs to be uocked and the key inserted in the ignition

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