In recent times, the popularity of Kia and Hyundai vehicles has skyrocketed, not only among car buyers but also among car thieves.
Reports reveal a concerning rapid increase in car thefts in the U.S, particularly targeting 2011 or newer Kia models and 2015 or newer Hyundai models.
In this article, we will explore the reasons behind the vulnerability of these vehicles, the specific models at risk, and the actions taken by Kia and Hyundai to address the issue.
Most importantly, we will explore effective measures to protect your vehicle from falling victim to theft.
The Rise in Hyundai and Kia Car Thieving
In 2021, a place called Milwaukee in Wisconsin noticed that more cars were being stolen. Most of these stolen cars were Kias and Hyundais, and many of the people taking them were too young to drive.
Videos appeared on social media showing these young people driving the stolen cars fast, swerving, and sometimes hanging out of the windows.
These were not skilled thieves stealing cars to sell for parts. They were doing it for attention and fame, and people started calling them the “Kia Boys.”
In major metropolitan areas like New York City, the theft of vulnerable Hyundai and Kia vehicles has seen an alarming spike.
According to New York City Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell, the number of stolen cars skyrocketed from an average of 10 to 12 per month to a staggering 100 in December, 2023 alone.
This trend is not confined to one location; rather, it’s a nationwide concern with Arizona topping the list for the most stolen Hyundai and Kia vehicles.
Identifying Vulnerable Models
The focus of car thieves seems to center on specific automobiles. Lawsuits filed in the past year have highlighted that 2011-2021 Hyundais and Kias lack of engine immobilizers, identifiable by their keyed ignitions, are prime targets.
Cars such as the Hyundai Santa Fe, Tucson, and Kia Forte and Sportage from 2015-2019, equipped with turn-key ignitions, are at a significantly higher risk of auto thieving compared to other vehicles of similar age. The absence of basic auto theft prevention technology in these automobiles makes them appealing to criminals.
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What Makes Kia and Hyundai Cars Vulnerable?
The absence of anti-theft devices in older models contributes to their susceptibility to auto thieving.
Mechanical bypass of physical ignition cylinders allows criminals to start and drive off with the car easily.
Even newer automobiles are targeted, as criminals exploit stealing the cars like breaking the back window without triggering alarms and manipulating the steering column to start the car using basic tools like a screwdriver and USB cable.
In April, a group of 18 attorneys general, with Bonta leading the initiative, sent a letter to the agency requesting a recall for all susceptible Hyundai and Kia vehicles produced from 2011 to 2022.
Their proposal was to retrofit these vehicles with immobilizers to prevent auto thieving. Although there is no comprehensive national data on the scale of these car thieving, Bonta highlighted a notable surge in stolen Hyundai and Kia automobiles in Los Angeles, with incidents rising by 85% in 2022.
These vehicles accounted for nearly a quarter of the total stolen vehicles in the city, a significant increase from the 13% reported in 2021, according to Bonta.
List of Affected Vehicles - Kias and Hyundais Built Without Immobilizers
A group of individuals has initiated a class action lawsuit against Kia and Hyundai, alleging that their vehicles were stolen due to the widely popular TikTok and other social media challenge known as the “Kia Challenge.” This viral trend encourages predominantly young teenagers to rip off cars from these brands and has led to a significant surge in car thieving.
Vehicles belonging to the lower-end spectrum of Kia and Hyundai cars, produced between 2010 and 2020, have been consistently reported stolen over the years. This is primarily because these cars lack electronic immobilizers, a security feature that prevents the engine from being started without the designated key present
The list of these affected Kia and Hyundai car model years can be stolen easily:
- 2015-2021 Kia Forte
- 2015-2021 Kia Optima
- 2015-2016 Kia Optima Hybrid
- 2015-2021 Kia Rio (all body styles)
- 2015-2021 Kia Sedona
- 2015-2016 Kia Sorento
- 2015-2021 Kia Soul
- 2015-2021 Kia Sportage
- 2015-2021 Hyundai Accent (all body styles)
- 2015-2021 Hyundai Elantra (two-door and four-door)
- 2015-2021 Hyundai Kona
- 2015-2021 Hyundai Santa Fe
- 2015-2021 Hyundai Tucson
- 2015-2019 Hyundai Veloster
Buying a used Kia or Hyundai vehicle? Ensure you protect yourself from purchasing a stolen vehicle. Run a VIN check to verify the vehicle history including ownership history, theft records, recall (for security software update) and more.
Manufacturer Response: Updates for Anti-Theft and Software Upgrade on Kia and Hyundai Automobiles
Acknowledging the severity of the issue, Hyundai and Kia, South Korean automakers, have taken steps to address the vulnerability.
Kia and Hyundai said they have developed a software patch that will be installed free of charge on affected cars.
The patch requires the use of an actual key in the ignition to start the vehicle and includes features like extended alarm duration.
Hyundai has initiated a program to reimburse owners for steering wheel locks, further enhancing security.
After sending the mentioned notice, both Kia and Hyundai have initiated campaigns for the majority of the impacted vehicles.
Dealers will now conduct a software upgrade on these specific Kia and Hyundai automobiles, causing them to activate an alarm and what the company terms an “ignition kill” system when using the keyfob to lock the doors.
Hyundai reports that 4 million of its vehicles, ranging from 2011 Elantras, Tucsons, and Sonatas to 2022 Accents, Konas, and Santa Fes, are affected, encompassing nearly the entire Hyundai lineup.
Initially, the software upgrade will be accessible for 2017-2020 Elantra, 2015-2019 Sonata, and 2020-2021 Venue vehicles.
Hyundai assures that the installation process for the models covered by Hyundai will take less than an hour, and each vehicle will receive a window decal or sticker notifying potential thieves that enhanced anti-theft technology has been implemented.
The only method to deactivate this feature appears to be unlocking the car with the fob. Besides, NHTSA mentioned that the software update will also extend the duration of the alarm.
For the automobiles unaffected by this update, Hyundai indicates its efforts to develop a program for reimbursing customers for steering wheel locks.
Additionally, it is exploring other systems to immobilize vehicles in case of car thievery.
It’s important to note that this solution will not provide an immediate resolution for Kia and Hyundai customers, as it will be implemented gradually over the upcoming months. Nevertheless, for owners of these impacted vehicles, this measure may contribute to a heightened sense of security.
Car Insurance: Big Concern for Hyundai and Kia Owners
Insurance companies, on the other hand, have responded proactively. Some have declared their decision not to accept new customers with vehicles exhibiting these vulnerabilities.
Allstate, Progressive, and State Farm have individually confirmed to NPR that they are refraining from issuing new insurance policies for certain Hyundai and Kia vehicles in certain states due to the elevated risk associated with thefts. It’s worth noting that existing customers will maintain their current coverage.
While the companies did not specify the particular versions excluded from coverage, WWL-TV in New Orleans reported that State Farm, for instance, is temporarily suspending coverage for certain popular vehicles, including Hyundai’s Elantra and Tucson, as well as Kia’s Optima and Sportage.
Protective Measures Including Steering Wheel Lock
As the number of car thieving continues to rise, law enforcement agencies and automotive experts recommend several preventive measures for Kia and Hyundai owners:
- Use Theft Prevention Tools: Consider using a steering wheel lock as an additional deterrent.
- Park Wisely: Choose well-lit areas or secure garages for parking to minimize the risk of car thieving.
- Lock Doors: Always lock your vehicle when parked, regardless of the location.
- Remove Valuables: Avoid leaving valuables in plain sight inside the car, reducing the attractiveness to thieves.
- Activate the Alarm: Ensure that your vehicle’s alarm system is activated for an added layer of protection.
The alarming increase in Hyundai and Kia thefts is a cause for concern, but proactive measures can significantly reduce the risk of falling victim to these crimes.
Kia says it has sent push notifications about the latest news and software updates to about 2.8 million of the affected owners and expects to notify all of them as soon as they can.
By staying informed about vulnerable versions, understanding the manufacturer’s response, and implementing practical safeguards, Kia and Hyundai vehicle owners can safeguard their vehicles from potential car thievery.
Stay vigilant, take preventive measures, and protect your ride from becoming another statistic in the rising trend of vehicles stolen.
Frequently Asked Questions
In response to concerns over certain Hyundai and Kia models being easy to steal, both companies have announced a Kia anti-theft software update for their anti-theft systems to address the issue.
Yes, Hyundais and Kias dating to the 2011 models are more likely to be stolen, and an estimated 8.3 million Hyundais and Kias dating back to that year are blacklisted by State Farm for auto thieving concerns.
In February 2023, Hyundai introduced a free software update that requires a key in the ignition to start the car. The alarm also stays on for a longer time, going from 30 seconds to one minute. Hyundai and Kia also announced the offering of free steering wheel locks to Kia owners of certain models to provide an additional layer of security.
The TikTok trend has brought significant attention to the issue, prompting Hyundai and Kia to respond to the concerns raised by consumers and the public in general.
Cars without immobilizers are prone to be stolen and thieves can rip off such a car with just a screwdriver and a charging USB cord.
An engine immobilizer is a key component of the anti-theft system, and the software upgrade aims to enhance the effectiveness of this feature in preventing unauthorized access to the vehicles.