The National Insurance Crime Bureau says nearly 230,000 auto thefts occurred because drivers left their keys in their vehicles — a 56% increase since 2015. 

On the Rise: Thefts of Autos with Keys Left Inside

There’s a lot we don’t and can’t control in life, but sometimes, we’re definitely responsible for some of the misery that visits us.

The National Insurance Crime Bureau says nearly 230,000 auto thefts occurred because drivers left their keys in their vehicles — a 56% increase since 2015. 

CCIG’s Daniel Rizzo.

Want a good example? How about when our car is stolen right outside our homes or at a convenience store – after we’ve left the keys in the ignition and with the engine running, especially in colder months but also when it’s inordinately hot.

The latest report from the National Insurance Crime Bureau shows that from 2016-2018, nearly 230,000 vehicles were stolen because drivers left their keys in their vehicles — a 56% increase since 2015.

That’s an average of 209 vehicles stolen every day across the U.S. because drivers left their keys or fobs in their vehicles.

The NICB used data from the National Crime Information Center to produce its report, but the number of thefts with keys or fobs left inside a vehicle may be a lot higher because many drivers don’t admit to making the mistake. In other words, they don’t tell the police nor mention it in their insurance claim.

People wanting to warm up their vehicles before they start their drive to work (or wherever they’re headed) are the biggest reason for the problem. The colder months of December and January, according to the NICB report, typically see the highest number of such thefts.

In Colorado, it’s called “puffing,” because potential thieves look for the puff of smoke coming from an unoccupied car’s exhaust in cold weather.

Puffing is allowed in Colorado only if your vehicle has a remote start and the doors are locked. Your keys or key fob cannot be in the car. A fine for a first offense can be $60, and police step up enforcement of the statute during what’s known as Puffer Week in late January every year.

So, what should you expect from your insurance company if you’ve left your keys in the car and the vehicle is stolen?

First, understand there is no such thing as “stolen car insurance.” If you’ve bought comprehensive coverage, the insurance company will cover your car if it’s stolen.

But you have to do your part in keeping your car safe, meaning lock those doors. If you leave the keys in your vehicle or leave your vehicle running, some insurance companies could deny your claim because you did not responsibly secure your vehicle.

Not incidentally, here’s another incentive to make sure you keep your car locked when you’re warming it up when temperatures plunge:

Stolen cars often are used to commit other crimes. Those include armed robbery, identity theft, home invasion and drug offenses. In fact, 97 percent of those charged with auto theft also are charged with something else.

So, beyond locking your vehicle and keeping the keys with you instead of leaving them in the car, what else can you do to avoid having your car stolen? Here are a few quick tips:

  • Never leave a spare key in your vehicle or any easy place to find.
  • Always close your windows and sunroof before exiting the vehicle.
  • Always park in well-lit and high traffic areas, especially at night.
  • Install a theft prevention device in your vehicle, which not only will make it more difficult to steal but could qualify you for a discount on your insurance policy cost.
  • Never leave valuables, such as your phone, wallet, or shopping bags where people can see them.

Daniel Rizzo is a CCIG personal lines account manager. Reach him at or 720-330-7905.

CCIG is a Denver-area insurance brokerage with personal and business insurance clients nationwide. We do more than make sure you have the right policy. We also help you lower your long-term cost of insurance with our risk and claims management expertise and a commitment to service excellence.


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