As the UK prepares for an extended period of cold weather, drivers are being urged not to leave their cars with the engine running when they de-ice frosty windscreens to avoid so-called 'frosting' thefts.
According to research from the AA's windscreen repair service, AA AutoWindshields, 40% of drivers let the car's engine clear icy screens before they drive off, putting them at serious risk of theft if they nip back into the house for just a moment.
With modern cars now virtually impossible to steal without keys, frosty mornings are a gift to car thieves.
Dean Hill, AA AutoWindshield's technician of the year, says: "Keys are the weakest link in the car security chain and organised criminals are known to cruise suburbs looking for the telltale plume of steam rising from the exhaust and if the car is unattended it only takes a few seconds for it to vanish."
Ian Crowder, spokesperson for the AA, says: "Over the first cold snap of the winter in December, 10 AA-insured cars disappeared in this way. Scaled up nationally that would equate to 3,500 cars. If we are in for Arctic conditions over the next month then we'll doubtless see more cars disappearing in this way."
Crowder warns that such thefts would not be covered by any motor insurance policy. Loss by leaving keys in an unattended vehicle is specifically excluded from motor insurance policies.
"The message is never, ever leave the keys in the car: not when you are filling up with fuel, not when you are feeding a parking machine, not when you are loading shopping in or heaving it out of your car, not when you suddenly forget you have left something indoors and nip back in again. You may never see your car again."
He adds: "The Financial Ombudsman regularly gets claims for this, but they are never upheld."
AA AutoWindshields tips for de-icing cars:
1. As you use a scraper and de-icer on the outside of the car, starting the engine and switching on heated rear screen and mirrors and allowing air-conditioned air to circulate and gently warm the glass is the most effective way to clear frosted glass.
2. Stay with the car at all times. If you need to go back to the house turn the engine off and lock the car.
3. Methodically work around the car with a plastic – not metal – scraper and de-icer spray. Clear all windows for all round visibility.
4. Never use just boiled water to clear glass – it could crack your glass, freeze and ice your wipers to the windscreen.
5. Assemble a 'winter war chest' and keep it in the boot. This should include a concentrated windscreen wash, a de-icer spray, a couple of plastic scrapers, WD40 to use on locks before a big frost, spare gloves, a torch, spare car bulbs a container of road salt crystals and a shovel.
6. If the inside of the screen mists up, stop and allow the air-conditioning to do its job. Never drive if you can't see properly. Don't use your hand, it will simply disperse the water and leave greasy smears. Use a lint free absorbent cloth if necessary.