In a disturbing turn of events, the epidemic of vehicle thefts plaguing Hyundai and Kia models continues unabated, despite the automakers’ efforts to rectify the situation. Three months ago, Hyundai and Kia unveiled software to combat the surge in thefts prompted by a security flaw exposed on social media platforms such as TikTok. However, data collected from seven major U.S. cities reveals an alarming rise in the number of thefts, indicating that the glitch still renders 8.3 million vehicles vulnerable to theft.
Severity of Thefts
Cities including Minneapolis, Cleveland, St. Louis, and New York have reported significant year-over-year increases in theft reports for Hyundai and Kia vehicles. Minneapolis alone has witnessed a staggering 1,899 theft reports so far this year, nearly 18 times the number during the same period in 2022. The severity of the issue has led Minneapolis Police Chief Brian O’Hara to describe it as an expanding problem of unparalleled proportions.
Recent nationwide statistics regarding Hyundai and Kia thefts are yet to be released publicly, with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety set to disclose early 2023 figures later this year. Shockingly, some U.S. cities report that over 60% of their auto theft cases now involve Hyundais or Kias. Videos circulated on platforms like TikTok have propagated techniques for starting and stealing these vehicles using basic tools such as a screwdriver and USB cable, leading to a nationwide surge in thefts since late 2021.
Alarming Situation in NYC
The situation in New York has become so alarming that the city recently held a press conference to provide owners with tracking devices for stolen vehicles. As of April 30, the city had already reported 966 Hyundai and Kia thefts, nearly seven times the number during the same period last year. The alarming theft rate has been linked to other crimes, including multiple crashes and fatalities.
Software Rollout Facing Criticism
Hyundai and Kia have accelerated their distribution of the anti-theft software, but the rollout has been criticized for its slow pace. The companies have installed the software on only about 5% of the eligible 4.5 million Kia vehicles and 6% of the 3.8 million Hyundai vehicles. Safety authorities argue that the automakers should have taken more assertive action in addressing the issue.
The Security Loophole
The impacted vehicles, primarily lower-cost models manufactured between 2011 and early 2022, lacked a theft immobilizer, a security device that has been standard in most vehicles for years. Hyundai and Kia have lagged behind the industry in implementing immobilizers, leaving a security gap that criminals exploit. The delayed response from the automakers has drawn criticism from Michael Brooks, executive director of the nonprofit Center for Auto Safety, who suggests that a recall managed by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration could have been more effective in raising awareness among owners.
Lawsuits against Hyundai and Kia
In response to the crisis, some cities, including St. Louis, Cleveland, Milwaukee, and Seattle, have filed lawsuits against Hyundai and Kia, alleging their failure to install industry-standard anti-theft devices and placing an undue burden on city services.
Law enforcement officials emphasize that the thefts are a financial burden and a public safety crisis. Taking advantage of the security vulnerability, unlicensed teenagers often engage in hit-and-run incidents and other criminal activities. The police are left grappling with the consequences, as the courts and youth corrections systems fail to hold these young perpetrators accountable for their actions, leading to a cycle of escalating crimes and potential harm to themselves and others.