What is ‘puffing’ and why is it illegal in Colorado?

Leaving a car idling unattended is called puffing, a way-to-warm-up that's illegal here in Colorado.
Michael Yearout/Vail Daily archives

On cold mornings, a person’s routine may consist of several efforts to ‘warm up.’ Be it sipping on coffee, slipping into a sweater or starting the car early, attempts to bear chilly mornings comfortably become routine this time of year. One popular habit that is intended to help cope with cold could land people in a more troublesome situation altogether. 

“Puffing” describes when a driver starts their car and leaves it unattended — idling with the keys inside the vehicle. The term, which references puffs of exhaust escaping a tailpipe in cold weather, expresses a way to warm one’s car up before heading out for the day.  

Avon Police Sergeant John Mackey said this common habit is surprisingly illegal in Colorado. Why?

“More vehicles are stolen in Eagle County from puffing alone than anything else,” Mackey said.

Despite the environmental repercussions of leaving cars idling to warm them up, the degree of car theft observed when puffing is what justifies the law prohibiting it, Mackey explained. Overall, Mackey said vehicle theft volume in Eagle County shows that drivers should remain alert and always keep their cars secure. For a thief, stealing a car is often as easy as finding an unlocked car with keys in the ignition, ready to go. Understanding this is important for drivers who make a habit of trusting their car unsecured while running. 

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Puffing essentially tempts thieves with an easy and high-reward steal. The engine is running for a quick getaway, the car owner is out of eyeshot and car doors are often left unlocked. No matter where your car is, leaving it puffing invites potential theft. 

While law enforcement does what it can to assist those who had vehicles stolen due to puffing. The act of leaving a running vehicle unattended is illegal itself, to defer people from making their vehicles vulnerable to theft in the first place. 

However, many people aren’t aware of what puffing is, let alone that it is against Colorado law. So, Mackey explained that spreading awareness about the issue is crucial to help stop it. If law enforcement finds a car unattended and idling for more than five minutes, the owner may be subject to a $60 fine.  

Mackey explained that people with cars that offer remote-start capabilities, should they start their car remotely, are not puffing their vehicle. Puffing involves having one’s keys in the ignition, leaving the car ready for a car thief. 

Wanting to get the car comfortable for one’s morning drive is understandable, Mackey said. However, other ways to warm up one’s vehicle won’t leave it susceptible to theft, like blasting the heat for a few seconds or leaving it idling while scraping the windows. 

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