How a social media “challenge” kicked off a nationwide crime wave that’s coming for your Kia (and what to do about it).
It’s a familiar tale that keeps repeating itself month after month: certain makes of popular Korean cars have been vanishing into thin air, leaving their owners perplexed and frustrated. Despite the regularity of these thefts (seven in East Falls alone last month — in addition to five unsuccessful attempts!!!!), it seems the message hasn’t reached everyone.
If you own a Kia or Hyundai — or know someone who does — it’s crucial that you pay attention and share this information. The thefts continue — there’s really no simple way to fix this design flaw — but armed with the right knowledge, we can work together to protect against the thefts, or if you’ve been a victim, apply for compensation from a recent court settlement.
A Little Background
Perhaps you’ve come across those viral TikTok videos or other social media posts showcasing just how effortlessly these vehicles can be stolen. The unsettling truth is that car thefts in Philadelphia have skyrocketed (more than doubling from 2019 to 2022), but Kias and Hyundais saw an increase of 800% and 400% respectively, especially after a Youtube documentary, Kia Boys, broadcasted the trend about a year ago.
This surge began gaining momentum in mid-2022 and has exploded so far this year. Philly police say there have been 9,000 car thefts as of June 2023, with about half being Kias and Hyundais. If you need proof, there’s a local Instagram page (@phillyyakkers) where kids share videos of themselves stealing cars, speeding through traffic, crashing into things… It’s hard to believe your eyes, and certainly a sobering sight.
How do thieves steal Hyundai and Kia vehicles?
The thieves exploit a design flaw in certain Hyundai and Kia models that lack an anti-theft feature called an engine immobilizer. An immobilizer prevents the engine from starting unless the vehicle’s key is nearby.
Without an immobilizer, the thieves can easily hot wire the car by removing the steering wheel column cover, taking out the ignition cylinder, and turning the rectangular nub behind it with a USB cable. This process takes only a few seconds with a common screwdriver or similar hand-tool.
What types of vehicles are most vulnerable?
According to Hyundai and Kia, more than eight million vehicles from model years 2011 to 2022 are affected by the vulnerability. These include popular models such as Elantra, Sonata, Accent, Rio, Soul, Forte, Optima, Sportage, Sorento, and Santa Fe. The newer models with push-button start or keyless entry are not affected.
The thefts have been reported in many states, but some of the hardest-hit areas are New York City, Milwaukee, Denver, and Philadelphia. The thefts have also caused insurance companies to deny coverage or raise premiums for affected vehicles, leaving many car owners stranded or in debt.
How can you protect yourself?
Hyundai and Kia have taken steps to address the issue. They are offering free software upgrades to rectify the vulnerability and even providing steering wheel locks to deter thieves and aid in the recovery of stolen vehicles.
However, these solutions may not be accessible to all. To bolster your defenses, here are some tips:
- Invest in an alarm system or a tracking device (think Apple Airpods). These deterrents will make thieves think twice or assist in the recovery of your car if it’s stolen.
- Ensure your vehicle is registered with the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System (NMVTIS), an essential resource that helps law enforcement and consumers identify stolen vehicles and prevent fraud.
- Contact your local police department to find out when the next steering wheel lock giveaway will be held (some locations have a surplus of locks available free during business hours).
What if You’re a Victim?
In May, Kia and Hyundai reached a $200 million settlement in a class-action lawsuit over claims that their vehicles are highly susceptible to theft. The settlement covers approximately 9 million owners of Hyundai or Kia vehicles produced between 2011 and 2022, equipped with a traditional “insert-and-turn” steel key ignition system.
Compensation for affected owners includes up to $145 million for out-of-pocket losses, with reimbursement options of up to $6,125 for total vehicle loss and up to $3,375 for damages to the vehicle and personal property, as well as insurance-related expenses. The car companies will also implement software upgrades to vehicles lacking engine immobilizers to enhance security; in addition, the anti-theft software will be automatically added during dealership service appointments. The timing for all this, however, appears to be a growing concern (Kia has disclosed they will be contacting eligible owners via mail soon, likely starting this August).
For more info about the lawsuit or how to file a claim, visit the Class Action Claim Update website (provided by Barton Cerjak S.C., the law firm representing the automakers in this settlement).