There are many ways in which vehicle owners can protect their unguarded cars, including using steering wheel locks or setting alarms. Drivers can still potentially find that their vehicles are at risk while parked on the road, however. And one of the most concerning stories of carjackings of late allegedly involves plastic bottles getting wedged between car tires and wheel wells.
Throughout the years, of course, drivers across the world have had to contend with a number of different tricks deployed by carjackers. And while the scams vary in their presentations, the goal of the thieves undoubtedly remains the same. That’s why vehicle owners should always be on the lookout for any suspicious signs on their cars.
The internet can also provide helpful information about possible carjacking scams to be aware of. Fact-checking website Snopes has, for instance, shared a number of supposed potential threats to car owners down the years. In February 2004, for example, the site published a widely shared email that apparently detailed one such trick.
“Imagine [that] you walk across the parking lot, unlock your car and get inside,” read the message presented on the site. “Then you lock all your doors, start the engine and shift into reverse. You look into the rearview window to back out of your parking space, and you notice a piece of paper, some sort of advertisement stuck to your rear window.”
At that point, the email claimed that the “advertisement” actually had another purpose. “So you shift into park, unlock your doors and jump out of your vehicle to remove that paper (or whatever it is) that is obstructing your view,” it continued. “When you reach the back of your car, that is when the carjackers jump out of nowhere, jump into your car and take off.”
“Your engine was running, your purse is in the car, and they practically mow you down as they speed off in your car,” the message added. “Be aware of this new scheme. Just drive away and remove the paper that is stuck to your window later.” Snopes then reported that another supposed scam, bearing some striking similarities to this one, was also doing the rounds.
In the other version, though, the message reportedly comes from a concerned mother in West York, Pennsylvania. The writer of this text is, then, seemingly talking about a suspicious item on her child’s vehicle. “Please beware that my daughter was coming out of the West York Walmart tonight, and as she was walking to her car she noticed that a couple of guys were watching her,” the note shared on Snopes read.
“[My daughter] got into her car and locked her doors,” the message continued. “As she was leaving, she saw what appeared to be a $100 bill on her windshield. She was smart enough not to get out of her car at the time because she remembered an email that I sent her not that long ago.”
The note then revealed the contents of that supposed previous email, which seemingly mirrored the message concerning advertisements being left on vehicles. “[It was] about people putting something on the windshield, and when the person gets out to retrieve it, they are carjacked,” it added. From there, the message concluded with an apparent photo of the folded $100 bill.
Snopes reported, however, that there was no concrete evidence of any crimes being committed using these methods of operating. Still, these kinds of warnings continue to float around the internet. In February 2017, for instance, Snopes shared a social media post that seemingly detailed another potential threat to car owners. Apparently, you see, one Ashley Hardacre posted a lengthy message on Facebook after she’d found a shirt wrapped around her car windshield wipers.
“I worked a closing shift tonight, so me and the girls I work with always walk out together to make sure we are safe in the parking lot,” Hardacre reportedly wrote on Facebook. “I got to my car and locked the doors behind me immediately as I always do. [I then] noticed that there was a blue flannel shirt on my windshield.”
“There were two cars near me, and one was running, so I immediately felt uneasy and knew I couldn’t get out to get it off,” the message continued. “At first I thought maybe someone had just thrown it on my car for some odd reason. I used my windshield wipers to try to get them off, but the shirt was completely wrapped around my wiper blade.”
From there, Hardacre’s message reportedly explained why the placement of the shirt had had her so worried, referencing stories that she’d apparently previously read. “I had seen posts lately about people finding things under their windshield wipers in the Burton/Flint area as an attempt to get girls out of their cars and distracted,” the user seemingly wrote.
Hardacre had then apparently decided to head off to a discreet location away from the suspicious cars, with the shirt still stuck on her windshield. And after arriving at her destination, she had supposedly removed the item. In the message, however, the social media user reportedly questioned why her vehicle had been targeted in the parking lot.
“I don’t know why the shirt was on my car,” the message apparently read. “But it had to have been intentional [because of] the way it was put on there. I really can’t think of another reason as to why someone would put it on my car. Tomorrow, I am informing security of the situation and making them walk me to my car from now on.”
The stories that Hardacre reportedly referenced in her message seemingly indicated to her that the shirt on her vehicle had been a sign of a potential carjacking. Fortunately, though, this wasn’t actually the case in Hardacre’s specific situation. In fact, Flint Township police later discovered that Hardacre had actually been the victim of a prank.
Yet while the shirt on Hardacre’s vehicle was not a ruse to serve a carjacking, there are seemingly still other ploys that potential car thieves might utilize. In June 2017, for instance, a YouTube video brought one such technique to the attention of motorists across the world.
Translated from Spanish, the clip – which originated in Mexico – is titled “New Way to Steal Cars with a Bottle.” In the footage, it is suggested that a driver could get carjacked if a plastic bottle is lodged between one of their car’s tires and its wheel well. This placement would likely be more difficult to notice than a shirt wrapped around the windshield wipers.
So the distraction would, in this case, come from the sound of the plastic being squashed by the vehicle’s tire. At that point, then, the video intimates that the driver would leave their car to check out the strange noise – leaving the key in the ignition. And from there, it’s suggested, the car thief would supposedly jump into action and steal the automobile.
The video drew a big response on YouTube, earning over 6.5 million views and more than 12,000 likes. In addition to that, the clip also generated close to 850 comments from online users, most of whom were reportedly incredibly thankful for the demonstration. The post might have had other unintended consequences, however.
In February 2018, for instance, the Bosveld Review reported that authorities in Polokwane, South Africa, had been made aware of rumors that carjackers in the area had allegedly adopted the plastic bottle trick. This concern had apparently stemmed from social media sources. So in response, Johan Retters of the Community Policing Forum attempted to calm these fears with a statement.
“This might be a method used in the bigger cities, but to my knowledge there has not been one such case reported in Polokwane yet,” Retters stated. “Prevention is, however, better than a cure, and residents are urged to remain vigilant at all times.”
Earlier that same February, too, the apparent threat of the plastic bottle trick reportedly prompted a South African security firm to release a statement on Facebook. CB Security North West in fact urged vehicle owners to be mindful of the technique. And alongside that post, the company also included a picture highlighting the scam.
“Police warn [that] if you find a plastic bottle near your car, you may be in danger,” read CB Security North West’s statement on Facebook. “Just when we thought thieves used the highest technology to commit their flights and scams, [they] come [up] with this. The tip of a plastic bottle.”
The South African security firm also outlined the technique, mirroring the visual explanation in the aforementioned YouTube video. And after revealing how the alleged scam worked, the statement then relayed some advice to concerned citizens. “The police ask all users to share this information and thus avoid other [thefts] with this simple trick,” the post concluded.
For vehicle owners living in South Africa, this warning could have been yet another thing to be wary of while out on the roads. The official website of the country’s police service already has a detailed list of dos and don’ts relating to carjackings, after all. And one of those points – which advises drivers not to leave their keys in their cars – subsequently stood out when the supposed plastic bottle trick came to light.
Meanwhile, the United States Department of State also has guidelines of its own regarding road safety overseas. “Carjacking has become one of the most prevalent crimes in many parts of the world,” read a statement on the department’s website, according to Snopes. “Most carjackings occur for the sole purpose of taking the car.”
The State Department then gave out advice on what to avoid in those instances. “You can protect yourself by becoming familiar with the methods, ruses and locations commonly used by carjackers,” the statement continued. “The first step to avoiding an attack is to stay alert at all times and be aware of your environment.”
And at that point, the government agency revealed a list of “common attack plans” relating to carjackers – starting with something known as “The Bump.” In this case, you see, the thief gently collides into a driver’s car with their own motor. This results in the potential victim leaving their vehicle to check things over. Then, from there, the automobile is stolen.
The State Department also went on to name more “attack plans,” such as the “Good Samaritan” and “The Ruse.” In each scenario, though, the driver gets distracted by something, causing them to drop their guard. So the plastic bottle trick detailed elsewhere is seemingly just another example of the same technique.
As the plastic bottle technique continued to grow in notoriety, though, two men in 2018 attempted to see if the trick actually works. Yes, Tim and Dan from Lakeland Broadcasting fronted an August 2018 YouTube video wherein they put the supposed scam to the test. Standing next to a parked car in the clip, the pair explain their plan.
“Tim and Dan here, testing the theory that a water bottle stuck in the wheel [of a car] will cause a distraction,” Tim says. “Then the driver gets out [to check the noise], somebody is hiding, and they get into the car. [Then they] steal the car. We’re going to test it out right now.”
Tim then takes an empty water bottle and prepares to enact the trick, with Dan playing the role of the carjacker. Holding on to the camera, the former talks through his plan. “We’re going to stick this bottle in the wheel well here, right there,” he says, lodging it against one of the car’s front tires.
“[That’s] probably not something the driver would see,” Tim continues. A woman then approaches the vehicle, with Dan hiding behind the trunk in a humorous disguise. So the female opens the door and sits in the driver’s seat, while the camera remains focused on the bottle in the wheel well.
Then, a few moments later, the woman starts the ignition and slowly pulls the car away from the parking space. The bottle subsequently crackles between the tire and the wheel well – albeit not that loudly – before falling out altogether. And after this, Tim asks the driver if the sound served as any kind of distraction.
“Did you hear that noise well enough that it would have made you get out and check your car?” Tim questions. “I couldn’t hear anything from inside the car,” the woman responds. “Not a thing.” Not yet satisfied, however, Tim looks to try again to see if the results will differ.
“Let me just put [the bottle] way down in here,” Tim says as he lodges the item into the wheel well for a second time. “I’m gonna really wedge it into that tire there. It’s wedged as far as it can go now.” So, with everything in place, the car slowly moves forward, causing the bottle to crunch once again.
In this instance, though, there is a key difference. And as Tim moves the camera up to the driver, we see that the passenger side window is open. “With the window down, I can hear it,” the woman says. “With the window up, [no].” So while the driver had noticed the noise, it still didn’t prove all that distracting.
Tim therefore gives a rather blunt assessment of the results of his tests. “We’re going to call that, probably not terribly plausible,” he says, bringing the video to an end. Elsewhere, too, Snopes has done a bit of digging, curious to see if the plastic bottle technique has actually resulted in a driver getting carjacked.
Snopes subsequently spoke to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and asked if they had heard anything regarding the trick. “A representative said they were unaware of any reports of carjackings involving plastic bottles,” the website reported. So it’s not entirely certain that the bottle trick can be considered a genuine threat – but it’s undoubtedly worthy of consideration for the sake of staying safe.
As it turns out, though, there’s more than one reason why spotting a bottle around your car could be a sign of imminent danger. In fact, leaving a plastic water container inside your vehicle can have devastating effects. Here’s exactly what you need to know.
During the summer, it’s incredibly important to stay hydrated – particularly if you’re out in the sun for a while. And, handily, there are a variety of options out there by which to achieve this – through sipping from a public fountain, for instance, or taking swigs from plastic water bottles. But those wanting to boost their water intake should take heed of Dioni Amuchastegui’s worrying experience.
On a hot day in Boise, Idaho, in July 2017, Amuchastegui was taking a well-earned break from his job. After glancing quickly at his truck, though, the power company worker happened to notice something quite troubling. According to Amuchastegui, smoke was starting to billow inside the vehicle.
Naturally, then, Amuchastegui investigated the issue, after which he realized that the smoke was emanating from one of the truck’s front seats. When the technician finally discovered the cause of the problem, however, it left him somewhat shocked.
Before the incident, you see, Amuchastegui had put a plastic bottle of water on one of the seats. Then, as the sun had beamed down on the truck, the bottle had become a makeshift lens, magnifying the rays of light onto the seats’ material. And after this scary event, the vehicle owner looked to spread the word about this potential fire hazard via social media.
For many people across the world, summer is the most enjoyable time of the year. Temperatures are often high during the season, after all, and balmy weather may make leaving the house an much more pleasant prospect. If the heat gets too intense, however, there could be some drawbacks.
Car owners in particular have to be extremely vigilant during the summer months, as the hot weather can cause a number of problems. Leaving an animal or a youngster alone in a vehicle, for instance, becomes even more potentially dangerous – and that’s certainly not all.
You see, if a motorist leaves their vehicle in the sun for some time, the interior will absorb the heat. When the driver eventually returns and opens the door, then, an intense burst of warm air will come out of the car. The dash, the steering wheel and the seats may all feel incredibly hot, too.
In those conditions, the driver can either wait for the interior to cool down or brave their next journey in the uncomfortable heat. Whatever they choose to do, though, they also have a responsibility to keep themselves hydrated on the road.
But why is it important to keep your water levels topped up when traveling from A to B? Well, a study from the U.K.’s Loughborough University has discovered that dehydrated motorists could pose a big danger when behind the wheel. In much the same way as drunk drivers, they may suffer impairments of their abilities – thus making accidents more likely.
In a 2018 report about the findings, British newspaper The Sun explained, “A survey by Leasing Options found a whopping 84 percent of motorists felt [that drunk-driving] was far more dangerous than not having enough water.” Worrying, the publication added, “Around three in five Brits had no idea of the risks [of dehydration at the wheel] at all.”
And it seems that such ignorance may have a knock-on effect. “With just under 70 percent of accidents on U.K. roads being attributed to driver error, dehydration could be a major factor in motorists losing focus and being involved in a collision,” The Sun further explained.
Leasing Options’ Mike Thompson therefore offered up some advice to drivers who were facing hot weather. “Showing caution and drinking more water will not only have a positive effect on the body, but [it] will also ensure [that] motorists stand a far greater chance of reaching their destination safe and well,” he told The Sun.
And Thompson’s words of wisdom didn’t end there. “When starting your car ready for the morning commute, you may not think [that] drinking an extra glass of water before leaving the house would affect your driving abilities,” he said to the newspaper. “But you would be wrong – so make it your prerogative.”
“Try carrying a water bottle in the car, or have an extra glass of water at the beginning and end of your working day to avoid dehydrated driving,” Thompson further recommended. However, that first suggestion may bring with it some risks if Amuchastegui’s story is anything to go by.
During a scorching hot day in Boise in July 2017, Amuchastegui had taken a break inside his vehicle. While tucking into his lunch, though, the technician noticed something alarming: one of the front seats had started to smoke. Thankfully, he was at least able to prevent his truck from bursting into flames.
Then, after putting the smoke out, Amuchastegui came to a surprising realization: the incident had been caused by a plastic bottle of water on the seat, as this had acted like a lens of sorts in the sun. But while the man later recounted what had happened to some of his co-workers, they found the tale hard to believe.
“A lot of people on [Amuchastegui’s] team thought he was making it up,” Melissa Thom recalled to CBS News in August 2017. “Everybody was shocked.” And Amuchastegui looked to share his experience with the world, too – not least because other motorists may not know about the potential fire hazards in their cars.
Amuchastegui’s employer, Idaho Power, went on to film a short video about the incident that was ultimately shared on Facebook. Titled “Safety Check: Water Bottle in a Hot Car,” the clip opens up with an introduction from the technician, who casts his mind back to that hot day in his truck.
“So, I was taking an early lunch and sitting in the truck,” Amuchastegui recalls in the social media video. “[And I] happened to notice some smoke out of the corner of my eye. I looked over and noticed that light was being refracted through a water bottle and started to catch the seat on fire.”
Amuchastegui also touches upon his initial reaction to the incident, saying, “I was a little bit surprised. I actually had to do a double take, [so] I checked it again. And, sure enough, [the seat] was super hot. I even stuck my hand under the light. [It] was hard to believe at first.”
A little earlier in the video, Amuchastegui had demonstrated what had happened in the truck, showing off the two burn marks to the interior. It was revealed, too, that Idaho Power had attempted to recreate the incident, with a camera ultimately capturing the results.
“We tested [the situation] again and registered the heat. I don’t remember exactly what it was,” Amuchastegui recalls. “With a non-contact thermometer, it was extremely hot. It was hot enough to start burning a hole through the seat. It’s not something you really expect – having a water bottle that [will] catch your chair on fire.”
As Amuchastegui is talking, the video cuts to a stationary shot of the bottle above the seat. Then, within a few moments, the reflected sunlight starts to burn the material, which produces some noticeable smoke. At this point, it’s revealed that the plastic is generating a temperature of 213 °F.
And the Idaho Power post certainly seemed to make people sit up and take notice. At the very least, the clip has gone viral, having earned close to two million views on Facebook since it was first added to the social media site in July 2017.
The video has also generated close to 2,000 likes and just under 7,000 shares, with more than 240 people commenting on the post to boot. And, unsurprisingly, there were many who hadn’t known about the potential dangers of water bottles in cars.
“Wow!” wrote one user in the comments section of the video. “That’s dangerous. Thank you for teaching me something new. I will be passing this information along to my family and associates.” Another person reiterated those feelings before going on to make an interesting point.
“Wow, think how many water bottles are floating around in people’s vehicles!” the Facebook user wrote. “That’s scary.” And yet another commenter chose to raise an important issue that hadn’t actually been addressed by Idaho Power’s video – but one that was still worth heeding.
That person revealed their belief that the human body may also be damaged by using containers that are left out in the heat. “Plastic bottles of water when sat in the sun should be thrown away,” the user wrote. “They release toxins. Ditch the plastic; [it’s] not good for anyone or the planet.”
And David Richardson from Oklahoma’s Midwest City Fire Department also took it upon himself to weigh in on the discussion. According to the administration major, a plastic bottle could absolutely start a blaze in that situation.
“Vinyl generally starts to burn at 455 degrees,” Richardson informed CBS News in August 2017. “It wouldn’t take very long to start a fire if conditions were right; [it just] depends on how focused that beam of light is.” There was something else he wanted to make clear to the public, too.
Richardson added, “The air temperature doesn’t matter. [The plastic bottle] works just like a magnifying glass – like one that you would use to burn leaves as a kid. It’s the same principle.” Ultimately, then, the Midwest City Fire Department produced its own video on the issue in order to further boost awareness.
That said, the fire department’s video differed slightly to that of Amuchastegui and his colleagues. In particular, Richardson chose not to burn a car seat, instead using a plain piece of paper for his demonstration – although the results were pretty much the same.
And after singeing a hole in the paper, Richardson makes some important points to the viewer. “A water bottle can start a fire,” he explains. “But while this paper did burn, I want you to keep a couple of things in mind. One: it’s about 450 degrees to burn this paper. Two: this was a clear bottle with a clear fluid in [it].”
That latter detail proves somewhat significant. “If this [bottle] was empty or partially filled, it probably wouldn’t have worked and magnified this,” Richardson adds. “So keep in mind that all the factors have to be in place to actually make this work.”
The Midwest City Fire Department subsequently uploaded the video onto its official Facebook page in August 2017. And this too generated a large response on social media, with the short clip going on to earn more than 100,000 views.
One individual also chose to back up Richardson’s findings in the comments section. “I truly believe it,” they wrote. “I learned a long time ago [that if] you put a drop of water on a piece of clear plastic, [it turns] it into a magnifying glass!”
Yet, as Richardson mentioned, keeping a plastic bottle in a hot car may not always prove dangerous. And the Midwest City Fire Department explained as much in a disclaimer to its Facebook post. “The likelihood of this happening in a vehicle and sustaining a fire is probably very small,” the message read. “We do not endorse or condone this activity. This was conducted in a controlled environment for demonstration purposes only!”
Regardless, concerns over the safety of such a practice hit the headlines again ahead of 2018’s World Cup in Russia. To celebrate soccer’s biggest competition that summer, a local business named Holy Water had started to stock commemorative bottles of water, with the special plastic containers shaped in the form of soccer balls.
However, in May 2018 a Russian YouTube user uploaded a clip to the video-sharing site that showcased the damage these bottles could do in the sun – from setting a box of matches alight to burning a hole in a laminate floor. Since then, the short clip has had more than 640,000 views.
But despite the apparent dangers of keeping plastic bottles in the sun, Richardson continued to assure the public that this shouldn’t be cause for panic. “It’s not a crisis,” he told CBS News. “We don’t know of this happening or becoming a contributing factor of car fires in our district, but the potential does exist.”