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Freezing weather bring rise in car thefts

12th December 2012 Print

As some forecasters suggest the freezing ‘beast from the East' weather system heralds a winter matching 2009's ice and snow, AA Autowindshields has warned that the season's first sharp frosts have already led to cars being spirited away.

Thieves look out for unattended cars being defrosted with the engine left running, the AA's mobile windscreen fitting and glass repair service says.

Research for AA AutoWindshields has shown that more than two-fifths (44%) of drivers let their car's engine clear icy screens before they drive off.  But they are at serious risk of losing their car if they pop back indoors and leave the engine running, even for a moment.

Dean Hill, AA AutoWindshields' technician of the year, points out that modern cars are almost impossible to steal without the keys.

"To car thieves, frosty mornings are a Christmas gift," he 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 an exhaust and if the car is unattended, it takes only a few seconds for it to vanish.

"Unfortunately, car owners will also get a cold reception from their insurance company as loss by leaving keys in an unattended vehicle is specifically excluded from motor insurance policies."

The AA/Populus study of over 22,700 AA members also found that although two-thirds (66%) of drivers also use a scraper and 45% de-icer, or a combination of both, 12% admit that they don't bother to fully clear the ice off.

Young drivers (aged 18-24) are least likely to completely defrost the glass, a fifth (20%) admitting they drive away with some or most of their car's windows still opaque with frost, dangerously reducing all-round visibility.

Another 13% of drivers say they use hot water to clear ice: women being more likely to do so (15%) than men (12%).

But Dean Hill says that this brings a real risk of damaging a screen.  "Sudden expansion caused by hot water followed by contraction as it cools can cause the glass to crack, especially if it already has chips or small cracks.

"On very cold days this method is ineffective, as the hot water will rapidly cool and almost instantly turn to ice.  Worse, it will accumulate on the wipers and freeze them to the screen, risking damage to the wiper motor or ripping off the rubber if you switch them on."

Dean's ten top tips for a clear winter view

1. While you use a scraper and de-icer on the outside of your car, starting the engine, switching on heated rear screen and mirrors and allowing air-conditioned air to circulate to gently warm the glass is the most effective way to clear frosted glass.  Stay with the car all the time.  Do not drive off until the glass is clear. If you must go back indoors switch off and lock the car.  Insurance claims for cars stolen while left unattended with the engine running will not be met

2. Methodically work round the car with a plastic (not metal) scraper and de-icer spray, using de-icer from the bottom upwards.  Clear all glass to give all-round visibility. Pay particular attention to the wipers - don't try to force them off the glass

3. Assemble a ‘winter war chest' and keep it in your car including concentrated windscreen wash; a can or bottle of de-icer, a couple of effective plastic ice scrapers, can of WD-40 to use on locks before frost is expected, spare scarf and gloves, torch, spare car bulbs, container of road salt crystals, shovel - many winter remedies for your car available from the AA shop 

4. Check your wipers and replace them if necessary: if they smear water, they will be even worse at keeping your screen clear of salty road spray

5. Never use just-boiled water to clear glass - it could crack the glass, freezes quickly and could ice your wipers to the glass

6. Use concentrated screen wash - and while you top it up, make sure the ventilators just beneath the bonnet at the bottom of the screen are clear of leaf debris, snow etc

7. Clear all snow off the car, a soft brush is effective - making sure the front grille is clear (otherwise there is risk of the engine overheating).  Make sure lights are clean and working

8. Make sure all of your car's glass is clear, including mirrors

9. If the inside of your 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 - a diamond ring will scratch the glass and your skin will simply disperse the water resulting in greasy smears.  Use a lint-free absorbent cloth if necessary

10. If you are caught without a scraper, use something similar such as a credit card: only use plastic, never metal and take care not to scratch the screen with jewellery