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Ask the Chief: Warm up your car, but foil thieves

Red Wing Police Chief Roger Pohlman

"Ask The Chief" allows readers access to useful information about law enforcement issues in Red Wing. This communication tool has been developed to enhance community policing efforts by providing residents and visitors with the opportunity to ask questions about local laws, programs and the department in general.

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Q: Because of the severe cold weather I had to warm up my car before I left for work, which means I returned to my warm house to finish my morning cup of coffee. Is this legal?

A: There is no state law that prohibits allowing a motor vehicle to be unattended while the motor is running.

However, Red Wing Code, Chapter 9, Parking Regulations, and Section 9.12 Unattended Vehicles does make it a petty misdemeanor to allow your vehicle, with engine running to be unattended with the key in the ignition. If allowing your vehicle with engine running while unattended creates possible harm to others, the penalty is a misdemeanor offense.

I understand your desire to depart for work in a toasty car that will not fail you halfway there, so warming up your car for a few minutes (three minutes or less) is smart but letting your car run unattended with a key in the ignition is not.

If you install a remote starter, you can start your car without putting the keys in the ignition. This prevents would-be car thieves from going anywhere because the key still needs to be inserted into the ignition to move the vehicle.

Also, if your vehicle is parked in a driveway that is beside your neighbors or your home, ensure that your exhaust is not feeding into the neighbors or yours air intake for the furnace or air exchanger, this could cause carbon monoxide to enter your home and create a potentially deadly situation.

The other day I was reading a Popular Mechanic's Magazine article that stated warming up your car in the cold harms the engine so limit your warm up to three minutes or less. The article states that the practice of warming up your vehicle applies to older "carbureted" engines. Newer vehicles that have electronic fuel injection have sensors that account for cold temperatures.

According to Minnesota Pollution Control, an idling car emits more pollutants than a moving car, so reducing unnecessary idling (limit to three minutes) is an easy way that we can all do to help improve our air quality.

I know it is tempting to leave the keys in your car while it's warming up, while you go back inside to enjoy a donut with a cup of hot coffee, but it's not worth having your vehicle stolen.

Six ways you can ruin a car thief's day:

1. Locking your doors.

2. Do not leave your keys in your vehicle.

3. Keep your car in a locked garage.

4. Never leave your running car unattended.

5. Purchase a remote car starter with built-in security features.

6. Place personal items in a locked trunk or bring them inside with you.


1. City of Red Wing Code, Chapter 9 Parking Regulations, Section 9.12 Unattended Vehicles. Located online at:

2. Popular Mechanics Magazine, Warming Up Your Car in the Cold Just Hurts Your Engine, December 28, 2018. Located online at:

3. MN Pollution Control -