By Karen Zautyk
The other day, having parked my car in an out-of-town supermarket lot, I noticed that the vehicle next to mine was a “puffer.” These are cars left running, and unoccupied, so the engine can warm up on a cold day. The term “puffer” comes from the puffs emitted from the exhaust pipe. These smoke signals easily attract car thieves, who even prowl the streets looking for them.
I have seen puffers in residential areas and outside convenience stores, but never in the middle of a supermarket parking lot. My presumption was that this driver had (stupidly) decided to leave his/her vehicle running while he/she dashed inside “for just a few minutes” (the usual explanation when filing the theft report).
When I came back out about 45 minutes later, the car was still there, and still puffing. Whether it was still there when the owner returned is not known. (I even called the local constabulary to find out if the thing could possibly be a “bait car.” It was not.)
In any case, warming up the engine is apparently no longer necessary. Do some web research, and you’ll find such advice as this: “Modern engines only need to warm up for 30 seconds on cold days. … The best approach is to only idle for 30 seconds, and then just drive gently for the first few miles.” (But are New Jerseyans capable of driving gently?)
Still, not all puffers are being warmed up. Some simply belong to simple-minded and/or lazy people who cannot be bothered to turn off the ignition while running an errand. They fall into the same category as those who, despite constant warnings from law enforcement, continue to leave their cars unlocked. For them, I have no sympathy at all.
My critics will likely once again brand me a callous creature with no concern for my misguided fellow humans. This is true.
If I were a cop and were called to a report of a car theft or break-in and learned that the vehicle had not been locked, I’d tell the owner, “Tough whatever,” and go back to doing important stuff. Which is why I am not a cop. That and the fact that I cannot be trusted with firearms.
At the very least, the “victim” should get a summons. In some states, they would. A Washington State law, for instance, reads: “No person driving or in charge of a motor vehicle shall permit it to stand unattended without first stopping the engine, locking the ignition, removing the key and effectively setting the brake thereon.”
New Jersey, believe it or not, has something vaguely similar but IMHO so wimpy I am not going to quote it.
Along with the aforementioned puffer, today’s column was prompted by yet another of the aforementioned law enforcement cautions to drivers, this one from Nutley Police Chief Thomas Strumolo, whose community has been plagued by car thefts/burglaries.
The NPD, he notes “continues to warn residents to SECURE and LOCK their vehicles. Unlocked vehicles have contributed to many thefts over the past several months, all of which could have been prevented if doors were locked. … Also never leave valuables in a car where they can be observed.”
Strumolo also offered some other advice of major import that you might not have heard before: “If you observe that your vehicle has been entered, DO NOT touch anything, and call police.”
The chief explained, “It is important that the vehicle remain undisturbed for investigators, no matter how little was disturbed or stolen. Evidence left by the actor may lead to prosecution for their vehicle [burglary] and many others burglarized in recent weeks.”
So: Lock your cars. Always. Everywhere.