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Some urban legends involving cars won’t die. You’ve seen them online, spreading virally across social media, inspiring fear in concerned consumers. That’s because parking lots can be scary places. One myth about parked cars and coins in door handles keeps surfacing. According to the legend, finding a penny wedged into a car door handle signifies something sinister. Or does it?

Urban legends about cars in parking lots

Young driver drifting
Young people in a parking lot | Getty

Some of the urban legends about cars are downright terrifying. Take, for instance, the one about the stick figure family decals targeting people for sex trafficking. That story circulated wildly on TikTok and Facebook, inspiring fear among the thousands of families who thought putting those annoying decals in the rear windows would be trendy.

Another sex trafficking-related urban legend about cars involves zip ties or wires tied to car door handles. Unsuspecting motorists would return to their parked vehicles to find a wire on the handle. While the victim was distracted when trying to remove it, the attacker would swoop in and kidnap the person. At least, that’s what some TikTok videos claimed. But that myth has since been debunked.

What about the coin in a car door handle myth?

Another urban legend involves coins jammed into car door handles. Criminals supposedly wedge coins between the door handle and the body to “override the car’s automatic locking mechanism,” Snopes reports. This story began circulating in 2015 as the “new way” for thieves to steal parked vehicles.

In another scenario, thieves would use these well-placed coins in car door handles to return hours later, at your house, to commit their crime. They would then have more time and access to your vehicle if valuables were present and potential access to your home.

During its investigation into the urban legend, Snopes contacted mechanics and professionals about the details of this supposed new way to steal cars. The fact-checking website contacted Caliber Collision Repair in New York to ask if putting a coin in a car door handle would disable any electronic locking mechanism or warning. Not only did the mechanics laugh, but they also said no such action would deactivate a vehicle’s locking system. Because the key fob locking mechanism would still be intact, coins or anything wedged in the door handle wouldn’t affect whether the car locked.

Snopes also spoke with Arnold Chevrolet Buick in New York to ask the same questions about the rumor. That mechanic also chuckled, saying it would be “implausible” for such a car theft scheme to work.

But what about a white towel or bag tied to a car?

An abandoned car riddled with bullet holes with a white towel tied around the driver's side mirror
A car with a white towel tied to the side mirror | Matthew Hatcher/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Coins and wires tied to car door handles might be myths. But if you see a white bag or white towel tied to a car door handle, side mirror, or another exterior car part, know that it means something. Vehicles in parking lots or on the side of the road might have these add-ons for an important reason.

We recently shared some Reddit discussions about how stranded drivers leave their vehicles with white towels or plastic bags to signify they haven’t abandoned their cars. Because some states allow anyone to claim an abandoned or unmarked vehicle, the bag or rag can be an improvised way to mark the ride. White towels and bags are also great for flagging down the authorities or towing professionals.

So, if you see an object affixed to your car door handle in a parking lot, it’s probably a prank. Don’t fret or worry about coins, wires, or stick-figure decals. However, for safety’s sake, always remain alert when returning to your parked car.