to start the engine of a car by connecting wires rather than by using a key, usually in order to steal the car
Origin and usage
Hot-wire is a relatively modern word that was first used as a verb in English in the 1940s. The adjective hot-wire was first used in the late nineteenth century in reference to electric wires.
The verb hot-wire refers to a technique of starting a car engine without using a key. Hot-wiring was once a common method of car theft, but modern automobile technology has mostly rendered it a thing of the past.
Research has shown a significant decline in the number of car thefts by hot-wiring in recent years. Improvements in car security and car ignition technology have made it harder to hot-wire a car. Modern car thieves now prefer to steal keys, usually during a home burglary or when a vehicle is left unlocked and unattended.
In films and on television, thieves are often shown to hot-wire a car in mere seconds with just a few twists of the right electrical wire. In action films such as Taken and The Bourne Ultimatum, the protagonists are shown tampering with wires before they effortlessly drive away in a stolen vehicle which they have commandeered unlawfully.
In reality, even for an experienced car thief, it can take about a minute or more to hot-wire a vehicle and this usually requires tools of some sort. By simply stealing the keys, a thief can make a getaway with a car in much less time – about 10 to 15 seconds. This greatly reduces a criminal’s odds of being caught in the act.