Thieves inspired by social media are stealing certain models of Kias and Hyundais with little more than a phone-charging cable.
The trend started in Milwaukee before spreading to cities nationwide. It has led to multiple lawsuits filed against the carmakers. Plaintiffs allege that Kia and Hyundai defrauded consumers by selling unsafe vehicles that lack a common form of anti-theft technology, which made them sitting ducks for thieves.
The carmakers have taken some steps to prevent additional thefts, including providing free steering wheel locks through local police departments, according to statements emailed to NerdWallet.
Prevention is important. Having your car stolen is disruptive and expensive, assuming you must replace your vehicle or repair it, if it’s recovered. But if you own one of the affected Kia or Hyundai models, you could face additional consequences, including pricier insurance and reduced resale value on a vehicle that’s known to be easily stolen.
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Here’s what you need to know about the wave of Kia and Hyundai thefts — and how to protect yourself.
TikTok challenge spurs Kia and Hyundai thefts
Videos posted on TikTok, YouTube and other social media sites over the past several months demonstrate how to steal certain Kia and Hyundai models sold between 2011 and 2021. These models use a key, rather than a push-start ignition system.
These vehicles don’t have engine immobilizers, which use electronic signals to prevent the car from starting without the correct key. Most cars made in the past 20 years are equipped with engine immobilizers because they’ve been so effective at reducing car thefts.
Brazen videos featuring the “Kia Boys” in Milwaukee demonstrate how to steal these Kias and Hyundais that don’t have engine immobilizers. They do so using a screwdriver, or even something as ubiquitous as a USB cord.
In response to the rise in thefts, Hyundai now includes immobilizers in all vehicles, starting with those made after Nov. 1, 2021, according to a Hyundai Motor America statement sent to NerdWallet. In a separate statement, Kia America said all 2022 models have an immobilizer.
The targeted thefts started occurring before the videos went viral. But the tutorials are being blamed for a jump in Kia and Hyundai thefts in cities across the country. Take St. Paul, Minnesota, where one of many class action lawsuits was filed this month. Between January and August 2021, 31 Kias and 48 Hyundais were stolen, according to St. Paul Police Department data. During the same period this year, that count increased to 334 Kia and 288 Hyundai thefts.
The Kia and Hyundai thefts add to a national car-theft problem that’s lasted two years. The National Insurance Crime Bureau, which analyzes crime data, reported that vehicle crime has increased since 2020, with carjackings and catalytic converter thefts nearing record highs. Almost a million vehicles were stolen in 2021, the NICB said in an email. Of those, about 782,300 were passenger vehicles.
Thefts could have broad consequences for car owners
When car thefts occur, insurance can help cover the loss or damage, if the policyholder has comprehensive coverage.
But the way in which certain Kias and Hyundais are being targeted makes insurance a thornier issue for those particular car owners — even if they haven’t had their car stolen. When risk increases, so do insurance rates.
What someone pays for car insurance depends on several factors, including where the car is stored, the number of claims on the person’s record and the type of car they own, Loretta Worters, vice president of media relations with the Insurance Information Institute, said in an email.
“It also depends on the insurer and what their claims experience has been, but if a company has seen a lot of losses by customers who own a vehicle that is prone to being stolen for parts, etc., then that could result in higher premiums,” Worters said. “We already see that with certain car models that are stolen most frequently.”
Resale values also could take a hit now that there’s widespread knowledge that these vehicles are at higher risk of theft, says Christine Hines, legislative director with the National Association of Consumer Advocates. “It’s not going to be worth what it should be worth if they want to sell it, and that’s not fair.”
The circumstances of the nationwide trend underscores carmakers’ responsibility to act, Hines says.
“It’s something they could have foreseen given that most other manufacturers had those anti-theft devices,” Hines says. “You just don’t want people to be at risk. That’s on the manufacturers. They should be acting quickly to ensure the safety of their customers.”
How to prevent car theft
With car thefts of all kinds on the rise during the pandemic, all car owners should take precautions to avoid becoming a victim. NICB recommends making sure insurance policies are current, taking valuables with you or keeping them out of sight when you leave your car, locking your car when it’s unoccupied and parking in well-lit areas.
If you own a 2011-2021 Kia or Hyundai, check with your carmaker about your specific vehicle to find out whether you’re at a higher risk for car theft and what the manufacturer will do to help.
- Kia owners can call customer assistance at 1-800-333-4542.
- Hyundai owners should call 800-633-5151.
The free steering wheel locks Kia and Hyundai are providing are a visible deterrent that could keep someone from breaking into your vehicle in an attempt to steal it.
In addition to providing the steering wheel locks, as well as engine immobilizers in new models, Hyundai has said car owners can buy a Compustar security kit that would help prevent thefts. The kit will be available starting Oct. 1 and would need to be installed at a Hyundai dealership or by Compustar.