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Defrosting your car – Don’t break the law!

For any of us, defrosting the car is a familiar it unlikable winter tradition.

It may surprise you to know that while you are defrosting your car, you need to be careful that you’re not actually breaking the law.

If that sounds preposterous, read on!

Using the engine

While some of us can probably remember the days when scraping the windscreen and otherwise de-icing the car usually involved manual labour and a plastic scraper, today it’s often a question of using the vehicle’s own facilities.

It’s very easy to start up the engine, put the demisters and blowers on full, then go back inside in the warm whilst letting the engine and gadgetry do their jobs. It’s quick, easy and above all, it means we are not standing outside in the freezing weather ourselves.

However, apart from all those things, such an activity might also be illegal!

That’s because under the road traffic act of 1988, it is an offence to leave your car’s engine idling for a time longer than that necessitated by traffic conditions. If your engine is idling at traffic lights, then that might be fine but, if it is doing so on the road outside your house while you are defrosting the car, you may be committing an offence.

This becomes complicated because the legislation does not specify a time period. Essentially, whether you have left it in that condition for only 30 seconds or 5 minutes, would make no difference. It is still potentially an offence.

Insurance issues

If that shocks you, there’s more to come with respect to car insurance.

If your car is left idling while it is defrosting and you are elsewhere, should your vehicle be stolen, your insurance provider may refuse your claim. That’s because leaving the keys in the ignition while you are in another location is typically excluded from car insurance policies.

In essence, that shouldn’t be surprising. Leaving your car engine running while you are elsewhere is simply an open invitation to car thieves to “help yourself”.


There does not seem to be any easy solution to this problem.

In terms of offences, you might conclude that the chances of the police driving or walking down snowy streets looking for engines idling while defrosting are near zero. Possibly that’s correct but if it does happen, trying to explain to the police in response to questions on this subject that you didn’t think you’d be likely to get caught, probably won’t be considered an acceptable excuse!

Insurance issues are perhaps easier to summarise. The message is very clear, don’t do it!

There are, in fact, thieves that specialise in looking for vehicles in exactly this situation and they will certainly be extraordinarily grateful for any inclination on your part to help them because you thought it could never happen to you.

So, like it or not, it looks as if the only solution is to get out there in your gloves and heavy jackets armed with that plastic scraper. It might be preferable to putting your car insurance at risk.

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