POLICE in County Durham are warning drivers that thieves could strike while they are defrosting their cars.

Officers say some vehicles are being stolen while they are being de-iced with the engine running. They also say thieves are breaking into cars to steal expensive portable satellite navigation systems.

Detective Chief Inspector Neil Malkin, head of the force's organised crime team, said: "These criminals can strike in any area, travelling everywhere to carry out these types of offences.

"It is far easier for them to steal a vehicle with the keys than without, and over the winter months, owners should do all they can to protect their property by following simple precautions," he said.

He said drivers who park outside should cover their car with a sheet, and when they are trying to get rid of ice, should not leave their vehicle unlocked or enter their house.

He warned that leaving the engine running while out of the car was an offence and added: "surprisingly large minority'' of vehicle thefts happen this way, while the driver calls at a newsagent or corner shop.