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Parts for Stolen Hyundais and Kias Are So Scarce the Cars Are Being Totaled

Hyundai and Kia say that they have backlogs of ignition lock cylinders following a string of viral thefts.
Stolen Hyundai Elentra
via Hyundai

They say “Hell is a Hyundai,” or at least it might feel like it when you wake up to your car being stolen out of your driveway by a thief with a USB cable. Millions of people across the U.S. are having to worry about their vehicles experiencing the same fate after viral videos on social media showed just how easy it was to drive off with nothing more than a phone charger. In fact, it’s such a big problem that 17 states are demanding that Hyundai and Kia recall the vehicles affected by the vulnerability.

Meanwhile, thieves are still actively stealing cars. When recovered, the vehicles are eventually sent to a repair shop where they can sit for months due to the lack of parts needed to repair them. The worst part? The parts shortage is being caused due to the increased demand created by the sharp uprise in thefts. In some cases, parts are so hard to come by that insurance companies are reportedly just totaling stolen cars instead.

To learn more about these stolen Hyundais, we spoke to a number of body shops in the greater Atlanta area. Now, Georgia is no stranger to car thefts—in fact, it ranks eighth-highest in the nation where seven out of every 1,000 registered vehicles end up stolen, according to data from CarVertical. When we asked the shops if they worked on theft recovery vehicles, nearly every single one immediately asked if we were talking about a Hyundai or Kia—and some flat-out refused to work on them.

Stolen Korean cars made up some of the most worked-on vehicles at body shops, or at least made a big enough impact that they were memorable to employees. Some shops said they received around one per week, while others received more than 20 per month. Hyundai dealerships in particular, seemed to be the most inundated with work—one dealership told The Drive that they were currently receiving “5 to 6 calls per day” about replacing the parts related to theft.

Some of the videos you see online of stolen Hyundais and Kias being ripped around the neighborhood can be pretty wild. Cars jumping over curbs or crashing into others represent the extreme, according to shops.

“Most of these things are getting joyridden until they run out of gas, not smashed up into buildings,” said the employee of one body shop in Atlanta while speaking with The Drive. “That’s how most of them show up here, ripped column and an empty tank.”

Shops indicate that most vehicles being brought in for damage have fairly common and isolated repairs: damaged ignition lock cylinders, broken glass, and missing interior plastics. However, the frequency of the thefts combined with the specific parts being replaced has overwhelmed Hyundai’s parts supply.

See, an ignition lock cylinder isn’t like a bumper. Hyundai (or any automaker, for that matter) isn’t ordering extra lock cylinders like other spare parts. Ignition cylinders aren’t typically replaced like a fender-bender bumper cover or a typical maintenance wear item. But with a sharp rise in thefts, the automaker has simply depleted its stash of spare parts and wasn’t prepared to handle the increased demand for a seldom replaced part.

“Lock cylinders and housings were never accounted for in the repair business,” said Anders Ryden, owner of Bavarian Body Works in Georgia. “You think about something like a bumper. It’s a high-impact area on the vehicle, so maybe they manufacture 30,000 more than they need. For ignition cylinders, they never accounted to have this many in stock.”

One Hyundai dealership told The Drive that ignition lock cylinders were back-ordered until at least June. This aligned with the timeline of another shop which estimated that repairs for any Hyundai or Kia vehicle wouldn’t be complete until at least July at the earliest due to parts availability. Some shops tell us that insurance companies are even totaling vehicles when parts can’t be obtained in a timely fashion.

A Hyundai spokesperson confirmed to The Drive that the automaker is experiencing backorders on “certain parts,” and it calculates the supply of spare parts based on demand, lead times, and supplier variability.

“While ‘ignition lock cylinders’ are experiencing backorders, Hyundai is minimizing the aging of these back-ordered parts through expedited air shipments throughout the supply chain from Korea to US dealers,” a Hyundai spokesperson said in a statement to The Drive. “As completion rates for the updated software functionality increase, we will see demand soften and expect to be able to continue to minimize any associated backorders.”

This parts shortage has led to some body shops refusing to deal with stolen Hyundais and Kias. Half of the shops we spoke with either didn’t work on theft-recovery vehicles or refused to take any previously stolen Hyundais or Kias. Many wouldn’t elaborate on why they wouldn’t take the Korean cars, but those that did ultimately blamed unresponsive dealerships and lead time on parts availability reflecting poorly on their businesses.

“The cars sit [at the dealership] for weeks and weeks and weeks waiting on parts,” said Denise, an employee at Buckhead Collision in Atlanta. “We try to get status updates by emails, phone calls—and nothing. We’ve even threatened them and they don’t care. We’d rather not mess with [Hyundais or Kias] because we don’t get good service.”

The parts shortages have gotten so bad that some shops have resorted to cannibalizing used steering columns and re-keying the lock cylinders. And if a shop can’t find parts at all in a reasonable time, workers say that insurance companies have simply started to total out the vehicles altogether.

Hyundai expects parts shortages to level out, likely in the coming months. The automaker has already released software patches to help cut down on thefts. It’s expected that this will help to reduce the number of stolen Hyundai and Kia vehicles and thus reduce the demand for spare parts related to the thefts.

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