“From Minneapolis, Cleveland, and St. Louis to New York, Seattle, Atlanta, and Grand Rapids, Michigan, police have reported substantial year-over-year increases in Hyundai and Kia theft reports through April,” says The Associated Press.
What’s Triggering the Problem?
Kia and Hyundai are both under the umbrella of South Korea’s Hyundai Motor Company and often build vehicles with shared parts.
Particular older Hyundai and Kia vehicles lack a common anti-theft device called an engine immobilizer. More expensive trims from both brands tend to have the part. But base models from before 2021 often don’t.
In late 2021, a series of social media videos taught viewers how to start them with nothing but a screwdriver and a standard USB cable.
That triggered a nationwide wave of thefts. A 2022 insurance industry report showed that loss claims for 2015-2019 Hyundai and Kia models were nearly twice as common as claims for vehicles made by any other manufacturer.
Some major insurance companies have begun declining coverage on specific models in some states because the theft risk is high enough to throw off actuarial calculations.
How Are The Companies Solving It?
Both companies have begun rolling out a software update meant to prevent most thefts.
The software creates a workaround for the lack of an immobilizer. When an owner locks the car with the key fob, it will only allow the car to restart once it is unlocked with the key fob.
In the rare circumstance that a customer locks the car with the key fob and unlocks it with the physical key, it will not start until they press the unlock button on the key fob. So, if you own one of these cars, you’ll want to keep a fresh battery in your key fob.
The update is free and takes less than an hour to complete at most dealerships.
Both companies have also given out free steering wheel locks to owners, and Hyundai has worked with AAA insurers to offer insurance coverage for owners who can’t find it elsewhere.
The Software Update Probably Works. People Just Aren’t Getting It.
The AP reports, “Data from seven U.S. cities gathered by The Associated Press shows that the number of Hyundai and Kia thefts is still growing despite the companies’ efforts to fix the glitch.”
The AP’s data doesn’t indicate whether any cars have been stolen after receiving the software update. But automakers routinely tell us that the hard part of correcting a defect isn’t the actual work of fixing it. It’s getting owners to bring their cars in for repair.
“Hyundai and Kia have said they’re accelerating their distribution of the software, with Hyundai saying it’s reached 6,000 installations a day,” the AP reports. “The company says it’s using direct mail, phone calls, digital advertising, and social media to try to reach the affected owners.”
Both companies have also asked social media platforms to remove the suspect videos.
Michael Brooks, executive director of the nonprofit Center for Auto Safety, told the AP that a formal recall might reach more people. “Unless people are really following the news,” he said, “they might not know about theft issues.”
But federal law mandates recalls only for safety defects.
The lesson for owners is clear — get your software updated as fast as possible. It’s free, available at every dealership, and can be done in less than an hour.