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driving concerns

I was telling a friend that I was sick of movies where the hero needs a ride so he goes to a random car and finds the keys conveniently left under the driver's side visor. Because who has ever actually left their keys there? And he said, "Yeah, that's dumb. Under the carpet is the way to go." Turns out he keeps an ignition key hidden under the carpet in case he's ever far from home and loses his keys. Isn't this a really good way to get your car stolen? And won't you be denied insurance coverage if you had a key in the car and it gets stolen? - Derek

Leaving a spare key in your car is a great idea - for car thieves. But if a crook does find the key you skillfully hid in the cupholder, you'll probably still be covered by insurance.

"Most personal auto insurance policies do not include clauses that would deny coverage for a theft if the keys were in the car or if the doors were unlocked," said State Farm Canada spokesman John Bordignon in an e-mail. "However, if a person has a pattern of many losses over a short period of time or a history of suspicious claims, this could make an insurance company investigate further or to review their relationship with them."

We checked with the provinces with government insurance. They said the same thing - you'll be covered if a thief uses your spare key to drive away. And, it happens.

"Unfortunately, people leaving their keys in their vehicle and having the vehicle stolen is pretty common in Saskatchewan, according to what we hear from police agencies," said Kelley Brinkworth, media relations manager for Saskatchewan Government Insurance.

How often? We checked with several police departments and didn't get exact numbers.

"We did a project a couple of years ago where 60 per cent of the stolen vehicles we recovered had keys in them," said Dan Service, director of investigative services for the Western and Pacific region for the Insurance Bureau of Canada.

When opportunity knocks

"You have to understand that there are two different kinds of car thieves," Service said.

Organized theft rings steal higher-end cars and send them overseas in container cars, Service said. These more sophisticated car thieves clone keys, hijack the signal from keyless entry fobs or simply drive cars away on flat bed trucks

And then there are opportunistic car thieves who are looking for any car that's relatively easy to steal.

"They want a car so they can travel from point A to point B because they don't feel like walking or they want to commit a crime," Service said.

Transport Canada made anti-lock engine immobilizers - which prevent the car from starting unless it recognizes a computer chip in the ignition key - mandatory for all new vehicles in 2007.

So because you can't hotwire newer cars, it's a lot easier to steal a car for a joyride if keys are handy. In fact, none of the most stolen cars of 2015 had engine immobilizers.

For cars that are harder to steal, police said thieves break in looking for hidden keys. Or they'll look to see whether the owner left the valet key - which starts the car but won't unlock the trunk or glove compartment - with the owner's manual in the unlocked glove compartment. Thieves also break into gym lockers and steal purses just to get car keys.

Or, a thief could just drive away if you've left your key in your car while it's warming up - or if you're running in to pay for gas.

"I've seen people run into Tim Hortons and leave their car running," said Const. Craig Brister with Toronto police media relations. "For a thief, it doesn't have to be an X5 - even a crappy car might get stolen for parts."

And in home break-ins, if people leave keys on a hook next to the back door, often thieves will help themselves to the car, Brister said.

Spare snare?

Police said it's a bad idea to keep a spare key in your car in case of an emergency. If you're on a road trip and going to be 1500 km away from the extra key at home, it might be a good idea to keep it with you - but just not in the car.

"As people, we all lead very busy lives and we seek convenience," Service said. "If your convenience is that you don't lock your car or you leave car keys hanging beside the door, there could be a price to pay for that."

Have a driving question? Send it to Canada's pretty big, so let us know where you are so we can find the answer for your city and province.

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