The season’s first arctic blast may tempt motorists to start their cars, then step back inside while they warm up. It’s a common practice during Minnesota winters, but police believe this is a good time to remind you that your chariot could be swiped in nanosecond.

An Edina man found that out last week. He left his BMW parked in his garage, but running. He stepped away for only a moment, but long enough for two teenage boys to seize the opportunity and drive off with the Beamer. Police caught the suspects after a 10-mile chase, which ended with their crashing the car.

Cold weather is prime season for car thefts, and any vehicle left running or with keys in the ignition and no driver in sight is a potential target. If it can happen in low-crime Edina, it can happen anywhere.

None of us would likely give our car keys to a complete stranger, yet that’s pretty much what we do when we leave an unattended vehicle running. Anybody passing by can get in, and — voilà! — instant transportation.

Locking the doors isn’t much safer either, said Minneapolis Police Crime Prevention Specialist John Baumann. Anybody determined to get your wheels simply has to break a window or jimmy a lock.

That’s the message police want to get across as subzero temperatures grip the region. Of the nine auto thefts reported in a recent week in Minneapolis’ Third Precinct, seven had keys in the ignition and five were left running with the driver AWOL.

It’s illegal to leave a running vehicle unattended on a Minneapolis street or alley. (It’s legal in a driveway, but not advisable.) That will get you a $34 ticket, and if the car is stolen, another set of problems. If it’s recovered, the car might be wrecked or missing parts that thieves have sold to chop shops. There is also the hassle — and cost — of retrieving it from the impound lot with associated fees.

Dealing with an insurance company might not be pleasant either.

“Generally a loss of this type qualifies for coverage, but the final decision is determined by the facts of the loss,” said State Farm’s Holly Anderson.

The bottom line is that a cold ride is better than no ride. “Save yourself a lot of trouble. It’s a lot simpler to put up with cold weather and stay in your vehicle,” Baumann said.

A cold shower for your car

Now for something you should do, even in the cold: Wash your car.

Salt and de-icing chemicals can do a number on your vehicle, leading to rust and corrosion. According to NACE International, which bills itself as an authority for corrosion control solutions, the annual cost of corrosion for motor vehicles is $23.4 billion. The Houston-based engineering group also found that 50 percent of vehicle corrosion is attributed to the regular use of road de-icing salts. So it’s not about having a pretty car, “it’s to protect from the effects of corrosion,” NACE experts said.

The International Car Wash Association says it’s fine to wash your car, even with temperatures below 32 degrees.

“It’s not necessary to wash your car immediately after coming into contact with de-icing salt,” the experts said. “Heat and humidity immensely speed up corrosion. In cold weather, de-icing salt corrosion is limited. If the temperature rises above freezing, that’s a good time to rinse off your car.”