Warming up your car makes you a target for theft. Is it also illegal?

Warming up your car makes you a target for theft. Is it also illegal?

CHARLOTTE, NC (Jane Wester/Charlotte Observer) - While it's tempting to turn on your car's heat and go back inside as it warms up on cold mornings like these, police have long warned that it's unwise. You're making things too easy if thieves find your key in the ignition.

You might also be breaking the law.

Charlotte's city code prohibits leaving a vehicle with its engine running on any street or alleyway and in many private parking lots.

So unless you park your car in a private driveway, there's a good chance warming it up unattended is illegal.

The penalty is a citation, and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police spokesman Rob Tufano said police hold periodic campaigns to enforce the ordinance.

Fifty-six cars have been stolen between Dec. 26 and Wednesday, Tufano said, though he wasn't sure how many of those had their keys in the ignition. It's a slight increase compared to the same period last year.

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"Everybody wants to get into a toasty car in the morning," Tufano said. "What's worse than getting into a cold car is walking out to your driveway and having no car."

The ordinance covers private parking lots "to which the general public is invited and at which there is no attendant." Police said that the ordinance applies to apartment complex lots.