Warming Up your Car in the Winter – Is it Illegal?

Okay, so if you haven’t looked outside lately (for some regions), it is winter time and there are these funny little white flakes floating around; the temperature is also dropping and because of the tilt of the earth, it is getting colder. In this post, I am going to talk about something that I hear every single year, but I will not be covering the topic of whether you should or should not ‘warm up your car’ during the winter time. Instead, we will be talking about the legality of leaving your vehicle running while unattended.


First off, the legality covering this issue will vary from state to state, local to local; so nothing here is set in stone and it is up to you to do the research on your local laws. 


Now, for our area (Northeast Ohio/Western Pennsylvania), it is technically illegal for you to walk outside, use the key to start your car, then walk back inside and leave your car running in the driveway/parking lot. This is where I hear most of the complaining. Everything from “it’s my car and I’m not bothering anyone” to “well the cops do it all the time” to “running my car for 15 minutes isn’t doing anything to the environment”; I’ve heard all of it before and the failure to understand the logic behind the law is why I am writing this article.


The reason why a lot of different regions have a law against leaving a running vehicle unattended is not because of the environment or your neighbors, but it is because you are technically potentially making yourself a victim of auto theft. And you will find this law enforced much more in the city than rural areas because of the probability involved. It is much easier for someone to steal a running car parked in a parking lot, driveway or on the street in a city because there is a higher volume of people than it is out in the sticks of BFE. 


With this being said, in most places, this law does apply to persons with remote start on their vehicle(s). However, the reason why the law applies to this scenario is because the law was written before remote start systems were available. This is where Officer Discretion comes into play and 98% of the time a law enforcement officer will not give you a ticket. If you are seriously concerned about the possibility of the remaining 2%, then become active and contact your State’s representatives in order to try and get the law updated.


For those who almost always retort “well cops do it all the time”, allow me to try to explain this to you. In the case of Ohio, under ORC 4511.661:


“(A) 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 from the ignition, effectively setting the parking brake, and, when the motor vehicle is standing upon any grade, turning the front wheels to the curb or side of the highway.


The requirements of this section relating to the stopping of the engine, locking of the ignition, and removing the key from the ignition of a motor vehicle do not apply to any of the following:


(1) A motor vehicle that is parked on residential property;


(2) A motor vehicle that is locked, regardless of where it is parked;


(3) An emergency vehicle;


(4) A public safety vehicle.


(B) Except as otherwise provided in this division, whoever violates this section is guilty of a minor misdemeanor. If, within one year of the offense, the offender previously has been convicted of or pleaded guilty to one predicate motor vehicle or traffic offense, whoever violates this section is guilty of a misdemeanor of the fourth degree. If, within one year of the offense, the offender previously has been convicted of two or more predicate motor vehicle or traffic offenses, whoever violates this section is guilty of a misdemeanor of the third degree.”


If you notice division (A)(3), this law does not apply to emergency personnel…which includes law enforcement personnel. 


In addition, a lot (but not all) of law enforcement patrol vehicles are outfitted with an anti-theft system that allows them to leave their vehicles running but will prevent the vehicle from being stolen. They only cost around $160 (*USD), hopefully, all patrol vehicles will eventually be fitted with them and you can even purchase one for your vehicle if you are concerned about the above law but you also do not want remote start (for some reason). You can find them HERE as well as many other online locations.


For those of you who have pointed out divisions (A)(1) & (2), this is also at the discretion of the police officer that stumbles across your unattended and running vehicle. Again, chances are, you are more likely to receive a ticket if you are located in the city and/or you are located in an area with a higher number of vehicle thefts. 


Either way, for those of you who seem to do nothing more than complain on social media like it is a town hall meeting, do yourself and everyone else a favor and stop. If you are that irritated with the way the law is written, go through the proper steps to try and get it changed. 

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