Hyundai-Kia faces growing pressure over car thefts

Photo (c) Izusek - Getty Images

Some state attorneys general say the response isn’t sufficient

Last month’s announcement from Hyundai-Kia that there is now a fix for the vehicle’s vulnerability to theft hasn’t lessened the pressure on the automaker. 

Twenty-three state attorneys general are calling on Hyundai-Kia to take “swift and comprehensive action to help remedy the crisis of car thefts that has occurred due to the companies’ failure to equip vehicles with anti-theft immobilizers.”

Thefts accelerated in the middle of last year when a TikTok video showing how easy it is to steal the cars went viral. Thefts surged because the particular models identified in the video lacked the anti-theft equipment.

Immobilizers prevent a car or truck from being started without a key that contains an embedded chip. The TikTok video showed how some Hyundai and Kia cars could be started using a USB cable.

In a letter to the automaker, the state officials pointed out that Kia and Hyundai chose not to include anti-theft immobilizers as standard equipment on several vehicle models sold in the U.S. during a period when every other car manufacturer was doing so.

“Kia and Hyundai failed to equip their vehicles with industry-standard anti-theft technology, and customers are now paying a steep price,” said Connecticut Attorney General William Tong. “These cars are now disproportionately targeted by thieves at rates so high some insurers are refusing to cover them. Kia and Hyundai need to make this right—quickly, and without nickel and diming their customers.” 

The fix

Last month the automaker, which produces both brands, announced a software update that it said would solve the problem. It has begun installing the update on the models considered most vulnerable to theft.

While that’s a step in the right direction, the attorneys general say it isn’t enough and has come too late. The attorneys general urge the companies “to do everything in your power to accelerate the implementation of the software upgrade and to provide free alternative protective measures for all those owners whose cars cannot support the software upgrade.”

The attorneys' general request has not turned into legal action, at least not yet. In February, however, the company was named in a class-action lawsuit. Sebastian Cole of Milwaukee filed the complaint in Wisconsin’s Eastern District Court, seeking class-action status. The suit says Cole was a car theft victim in July 2021 when his 2018 Kia Forte was stolen.

More recently, the City of San Diego sued the automaker over the lack of immobilizers on older models. The San Diego City Attorney's Office alleges that 146 Hyundai and Kia cars were stolen in San Diego during the first six months of 2022, and 369 cars were taken in the last six months of the year.

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