Mysterious car left running all hours
March 11, 2017 9:04 AM   Subscribe

Give me your best guess regarding a car on our block that is left running at strange hours.

I walk our dog between 10-11pm most nights. Many times when I walk her, I walk past a car parked on the street - an older SUV - that is just sitting there running. Occasionally, I see a man sitting in the front or sometimes - less frequently - he seems to be with a woman and maybe also a teenage daughter(?) who sits in the backseat. Most times, though, the car seems to be empty but running. The windows are fairly tinted, and it is dark, so maybe there are people in the backseat that I am not seeing. Much of the time there is one of those "sun screen" cardboard things across the windshield, which seems kind of odd at night. Even less frequently, like maybe once every couple of weeks, there is another car with people sitting in it, running, that is parked near the SUV, and I see people sometimes go between the two cars. The SUV does not seem to be around except at night. I never see the car move - i.e., when I am walking the dog for 10-15 minutes, the car just sits, running.

The way I would describe the people I see associated with the cars is probably latino and dressed in jeans/hoodies/causal clothes. They do not look homeless, though I have wondered if they are living in the car(s). There is no sign of "camping" on/around the cars - e.g., laundry drying, etc. The man and woman are above 30 years old, but I don't know more specifically. I have never seen them go into or come out of any house/apartment.

The area is a residential neighborhood in Chicago - lots of cars parallel parked on street - near a small retail area with a few restaurants and stores.

Theories I have had: homeless/living in cars; working a job in the neighborhood and using car before/after work to stay warm and wait; living in apartment nearby and going to car to smoke or something like that; people using a remote starter to warm up the car for some reason. What is seems not to be: selling drugs - no significant traffic of people coming and going (except when I see the other car).

I'm just curious about what's going on here - nothing about it seems dangerous; just odd.
posted by Mid to Grab Bag (16 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Picking up someone who works at one of the restaurants?
posted by Sweetie Darling at 9:07 AM on March 11 [1 favorite]

Could it be a bait car?
posted by kevinbelt at 9:31 AM on March 11

Keeping the car(s) running to charge the battery?

Or a police stake-out?
posted by JimN2TAW at 9:44 AM on March 11

Random but maybe is there a pokemon gym there and they are playing?
posted by k8t at 9:57 AM on March 11 [4 favorites]

I was going to say Pokémon Go or Ingress. I know a lot of players whose behavior sounds like that. They may leave the car running to walk a short distance away, capture a portal or Pokeguy, and then come back. They could also be killing time between when their shift ends and the time their friend gets off work to give them a ride. Or both! (If you pm me the intersection I can check if there are interesting game things there.)
posted by tchemgrrl at 10:11 AM on March 11 [6 favorites]

Private Eye doing surveillance.
posted by patnok at 10:27 AM on March 11 [1 favorite]

I'd vote for someone living in their car. It is way more common than you think. They are actually very careful to not look like they are living in the car so seeing things like laundry etc around wouldn't be likely. I have know people working short term contracts to just live in a car so don't assume they'll look traditionally homeless clothes wise. Google stealth car camping, it might give you some more ideas of what to look for.
posted by wwax at 12:03 PM on March 11 [11 favorites]

Probably impossible to say, but based on your description I assumed they are living in their car. Does the car ever leave the spot? That or, who knows, maybe the heat in their apartment is broken so they use their car to keep warm at night.
posted by AppleTurnover at 12:08 PM on March 11 [2 favorites]

Best guesses would be living/partially living in the car, working in the car, hanging out in the car, or waiting in the car.

Jeans/hoodies/"probably Latino" is the undercover cop uniform in my city but as this strikes you as a family I can't imagine a cop infiltrating such a small group with no sign of illegal activity.
posted by kapers at 12:24 PM on March 11 [2 favorites]

Thanks for the guesses. The car seems to not be around during the day, only night. And I should have stressed that the car seems to be left running for long periods of time. Like, if I come out at 10pm or 11pm, it's running - so I assume it runs for an hour plus at a time. One other random thought I had is maybe it's valet parking attendants from a nearby restaurant using it as a warming spot - but it mainly seems to be the same one guy in it when I do see someone in it. Otherwise, it seems to be running with nobody in it.
posted by Mid at 2:32 PM on March 11

They have lost the outlet plug in cord to charge their phone in the house, forget to buy one, so charging their phone in the car because they DO have a car charger?

In our neighborhood we had this happen when someone had their power turned off and they used an old car to somehow power a generator. But you would see cords coming from the car if that were the case in your situation.
posted by cda at 4:12 PM on March 11

There's always someone in it, but one of my neighbors smokes in his car with the engine running for heat in the winter and a/c in the summer.
posted by hwyengr at 5:06 PM on March 11

I was looking for a parking spot in a parking lot a few weeks ago when I encountered a car with the brake and back-up lights on. I waited a few minutes until I realized there was no one in the car!! I'd never seen anything like this. Upon further inspection once I got parked, there were no keys in the ignition, either, and the engine was idling. Weird!

Friends told me the owner must have a remote ignition starter, and I guess the thing to do is just leave the car running?? Again, weird!
posted by SoftSummerBreeze at 5:24 PM on March 11

Hmm. Only thing I can think of that hasn't been suggested is someone lulling a baby to sleep. Given the tinted windows, do you think there's any chance that there's a car seat or a Moses basket on one of the seats?
posted by howfar at 6:09 PM on March 11 [1 favorite]

SoftSummerBreeze: "Friends told me the owner must have a remote ignition starter, and I guess the thing to do is just leave the car running??"

With more advanced remote start you can set the car to either automatically start at a particular time (say 3:30 when you get off at 4:00) so the car is warm/defrosted or cold from A/C depending on the weather. You can also have the car run for say 10 minutes every hour which is handy when the temperature drops to -40 and you can't plug in (or plugging in isn't sufficient). Saves fuel verses leaving a vehicle idle all day.
posted by Mitheral at 7:22 PM on March 11

If it were on my former street in Chicago this would 100% be people doing (not necessarily selling) drugs, but you would know your street/neighborhood better than I would. There were a lot of junkies that would shoot up in their cars on my street and then nod off with their cars running to stay warm. If you ever see syringes or little baggies on your sidewalk that could be it.

But it's very possible it's someone living in their car permanently or occasionally (like when they can't get in a shelter or on a friend's couch). I had that on my former street as well, and I didn't always realize that was happening unless they did it for several nights in a row; then once I recognized the car I realized I'd see it on different streets or it would disappear for a while and then return.

BTW, having lived across the alley from a drug dealer, the traffic isn't quite the "constant stream of people coming and going" that you might think. It's often just get a text, go outside, sell, go back inside, then nothing for hours. It's not like a store where they hang out a sign and say "drugs now available 10pm-1am." That said, dealing from cars tended to be two people agreeing to meet on our street, doing the deal, then both driving away rather than anyone sticking around for any period of time, so I doubt that's what's happening in your case.
posted by misskaz at 9:54 AM on March 12

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