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The 'frost jacking' phenomenon and how to keep your car safe

This winter style of auto theft is becoming more and more common, both in the U.S. and abroad, as thieves target an old cold weather habit.

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Although not new, the phenomenon of "frost jacking" is catching on and becoming more and more common in both North America and Europe. This type of car theft has the thieves waiting out until the car's owner comes out to start the vehicle on a cold day and then leaves it unattended as it warms up.

The thieves then have free access to the car with, at most, a locked door standing between them and driving away with the vehicle quickly. They will usually target desirable models or brand new vehicles and the car is often gone for several minutes before the owner realizes what's happened.

Imagine It's You
You go out on a very cold morning, get into your new Cadillac Escalade, and turn the key. After turning on the defroster for the windows, you exit the cold truck and run back into the house for some hot morning coffee while your vehicle warms up. No sooner have you closed the door then thieves pull up to your driveway. One of them jumps out and hops into your conveniently started and running Escalade, backs out of the drive, and they're off.

You don't realize your SUV is gone until you walk back outside five minutes later, ready to go to work and see the empty driveway.

How To Prevent This
When you start your car and leave the keys in it to run, you're giving thieves two things: easy access to your vehicle, since most auto alarms and disabling systems shut off automatically when the key is in the vehicle, and; the key to your car as well as a few minutes of free access to get in and get out.

These thieves wait for cold days or long cold spells. In the meantime, they'll troll neighborhoods looking for prime targets (desirable vehicles like the Escalade in our example) and noting which ones are not garaged or are in easily-accessed garages. Then on a cold day, they'll pick one or two targets and wait to see if the owner starts the car to warm it up and leaves it unattended. Many of these thieves work in networks that not only target the intended vehicles, but have somewhere to take it quickly and ways to dismantle or sell it within hours of the theft.

To protect your vehicle, never leave it unattended. Sit in the car and drink your hot coffee while the defrost runs if you must, or scrape your windows yourself (which also saves fuel - cars warm up faster on the go than they do at idle and the "warm up" to save the engine myth is just that).

You can also get tracking devices (often as part of the satellite navigation system in your car) to track a stolen vehicle quickly. These are often registered with police so that all you have to do is make a phone call, give your license plate, and they'll start looking for it. Many insurance companies give discounts if these devices are installed.

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Don Bain    January 30, 2013 - 3:34PM

It's not only unwise, in some locales like Denver, it's illegal to leave your car running unattended, unless you have remote starting. So if you don't get victimized by the thieves, well you can tell where this is going...