QUEENS — A spike in car thefts is being blamed on a hidden key you don't know is in your car — but thieves do.
Police are linking the uptick in auto thefts in Forest Hills to valet keys that are kept in the owner's manuals of many new cars.
They are meant to be used by valet parking attendants.
“A lot of car owners don’t realize they have that key in their owner’s manual,” Capt. Robert Ramos, the 112th Precinct's commanding officer, said Wednesday at the precinct’s community council meeting.
Car thieves have been preying on that, said Ramos, who called the method “pretty unsophisticated.”
“They are basically walking up and down the street trying door handles to see if the cars are unlocked,” Ramos said.
Once inside the car, they check the glove box, take the valet key and drive away, he said.
The keys, which are typically shorter than the primary key — or are the only key in the case of cars with keyless entry — can be used to open the door and start the vehicle, although they can’t unlock the trunk or the glove box, police said.
Several cars have recently been stolen this way in the 112th Precinct, which covers Forest Hills and Rego Park, police said.
From Aug. 22 through Sept. 18, the total number of cars stolen in the precinct increased by more than 42 percent — from seven to 10 — compared with the same period last year, according to statistics provided by Ramos.
Ramos also said that on Tuesday officers arrested two men inside a stolen car on Kessel Street who used the valet key to snatch it. Police are now looking for two more suspects who got away, Ramos said.
"If you have a new car from 2010 to the present, check your glove compartment," Ramos warned.
"If the key is in there, make sure you take it out and make sure to lock up the vehicle."