Kia and Hyundai Car Thefts Continue To Rise in Several US Cities
Kia and Hyundai have a solution for the theft epidemic, but it’s not rolling out quickly enough to stem the tide.
Hyundai and Kia have been scrambling to contain widespread thefts due to a security flaw in millions of the company's vehicles. Despite the introduction of a software fix earlier this year, the theft epidemic shows no signs of slowing down.
As reported by the Associated Press, new data shows that thefts of Hyundai and Kia vehicles are still on the rise. Nationwide figures are not yet available, but the trend in several cities is worrying. Minneapolis has been one of the worst hit, recording 1,899 Kia and Hyundai theft reports this year. That's a full 18 times higher than the same period last year. Cleveland, St. Louis, New York, Seattle, Atlanta, and Grand Rapids have also seen year-on-year rises. Denver is an outlier, recording a 23% decline versus 2022, though Kia and Hyundai thefts in that municipality still remain elevated.
The root of the problem is that Hyundai and Kia originally built these vehicles without immobilizers. This simple technology prevents the engine from starting unless the car picks up a signal from a properly coded chip inside the key. Without this hardware, it's possible to start the car with basic hand tools and a USB cable used as an ersatz key to turn the ignition barrel. A reported 8.3 million Kia and Hyundai vehicles are affected by this problem. The ease of stealing these cars has led to instructional theft guides being posted on TikTok and other social media platforms.
The companies have released a software fix that will prevent easy thefts. When the vehicle is locked with a key fob, it engages an ignition kill feature that isn't disabled until the car is unlocked properly. It doesn't offer the full protection of a proper immobilizer, but it's enough to frustrate the simplest attempts. It's certainly a strong step up from initial piecemeal efforts to hand out a few wheel locks to local police departments.
Thus far, the rollout of the fix is slow going. Just 5% and 6% of Kia and Hyundai vehicles respectively have had the update installed, or roughly 435,000 vehicles in total. Additionally, not all Hyundai vehicles can accept the fix. For these vehicles, Hyundai has prepared a program to reimburse owners for steering wheel locks.
Regardless, efforts are in place to accelerate the fix for owners. Hyundai has currently reached a rate of 6,000 fixes a day, and expects to have contacted all affected owners by May 18. Kia has set a similar deadline for the end of the month.
The affected population is a wide selection of Hyundai and Kia models built from 2011 to the 2022 model year. Crucially, most automakers started including immobilizers as basic equipment in the 2010s, and even cheap Hyundais had the technology in overseas markets in the early 2000s. In the U.S. though, it was a different story. By 2015, 96% of other manufacturers' models included immobilizers as standard, compared to just 26% of Hyundai and Kia models. It's a savings measure that has now cost the company dearly.
Hyundai and Kia executives are likely ruing the day they elected not to install immobilizers across the entire U.S. fleet. The rollout of software updates will help slow the epidemic in time, as will the decals advising thieves of the fact. However, the damage to the brand's reputation has been significant. New owners might just think twice about security before they purchase a new Hyundai or Kia in the future.
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