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Why Warming Up Your Car is Illegal

Posted On: February 16th, 2016 by Bradley J. Groene

With the particularly frigid weather we’ve been experiencing here in Cincinnati recently, it’s no surprise that many people are taking advantage of the remote start function of their cars to get it warmed up before driving away. Others go outside with their key to start the engine and then retreat into the warm house until the car is nice and toasty. But did you know this practice is actually illegal in Ohio?

It may be strange, but it’s true. A 2004 Ohio law makes it illegal to leave a vehicle unattended without stopping the engine and removing the key. This means that even if the car is still locked and you use a remote start function, a running car is illegal if not attended, which the law interprets in the typical sense of the word to mean “not noticed, not supervised, or not looked at.”

While it’s not exactly clear how close to the car you must be for the car to be “attended,” Assistant City Prosecutor for Columbus Melanie Tobias says that you are probably ok if you are watching a remote start car from down the driveway in the house, but you are certainly always breaking the law if the key has to be in the ignition—or if you aren’t closely monitoring the running car.

If you are caught warming up your car illegally, you usually face a minor misdemeanor citation and a $150 fine. If you have traffic violations on your record from within the past year, however, you could be charged with a fourth or even third-degree misdemeanor, which could be sentenced by up to two months in jail.

What’s the Reason for This Law?

This may seem unnecessarily harsh, especially during winter months, but the logic behind the law has to do with the potential burden on police if something happened to your car while you left it unattended. The law is intended to prevent the easy theft of your car while it is abandoned with the keys inside. It also is intended to minimize the risk of a runaway car causing damage to another person’s property or even injuring another person. While the logic may be sound, many Ohio citizens argue that the law is unfair when the weather gets as dangerously cold as it has been this winter.

So how much risk are you really taking if you warm up your car before getting inside? According to Cincinnati police, actual citations are rare unless something actually happens to the vehicle, physical property, or another person. Generally police will simply issue a warning and remind the owner of the potential risk. Still, it is illegal, and you can be forced to face the consequences if you are arrested.

How a Cincinnati Traffic Lawyer Can Help

In general, it’s best to err on the side of caution and strictly follow the law, but the choice is of course up to you. If you are cited for warming up your car this winter, especially if you have been previously cited for another traffic citation, it may be a good idea to speak to a lawyer about the possible implications. Call Cincinnati traffic lawyer Brad Groene right away at (513) 338-1890 or email us at for a free consultation where you can discuss your options.

Bradley Groene made an exceptionally difficult situation much easier to handle. He kept me informed of everything that was going to happen and got results for my case far better than I could have hoped for. I would highly recommend him for anyone who finds themselves in legal troubles.