Nearly three months ago, Hyundai and Kia unveiled software designed to thwart an epidemic of vehicle theft caused by a security breach exposed on TikTok and other social media sites.
So far this has not solved the problem. Across the country, thieves continue to drive off vehicles at an alarming rate.
Data from seven U.S. cities collected by The Associated Press shows Hyundai and Kia theft numbers continue to rise despite companies’ efforts to address the problem, making 8.3 million vehicles relatively easy targets for The thieves.
From Minneapolis, Cleveland and St. Louis to New York, Seattle, Atlanta and Grand Rapids, Michigan, police reported a substantial year-over-year increase in Hyundai and Kia theft reports through April. An eighth city, Denver, which was hit early by the theft epidemic, reported a 23% drop from 2022 levels but still suffered high numbers of thefts.
ST. LOUIS HYUNDAI / KIA DEALER INVENTS SECURITY DEVICE FOR STOLEN CARS BY TIKTOK CHALLENGE
So far this year, Minneapolis police have received 1,899 Kia and Hyundai theft reports, nearly 18 times the number for the same period in 2022.
“The scope of the problem is only expanding and is exponentially worse than it has been in the past,” Minneapolis Police Chief Brian O’Hara said in an email. “We have certain weeks where almost as many Kias and Hyundais are stolen in a week as before in a year.”
The most recent national figures on Hyundai and Kia flights are not yet publicly available. Early 2023 figures, as calculated by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, will be released through the end of this year. (Hyundai and Kia are part of the same South Korean corporate family.)
Some US cities have reported that 60% or more of their car theft reports now involve Hyundais or Kias. Videos on TikTok and other sites that illustrate how to start and steal Kia and Hyundai models – using only a screwdriver and a USB cable – have helped thefts spread across the country since late 2021.
In New York, the Hyundai-Kia theft problem has become so worrisome that the city held a press conference last month to offer owners devices that can track their vehicles in case of theft. Police there reported 966 Hyundai and Kia thefts as of April 30, nearly seven times the number in the same period of 2022.
The worrying rate of theft, which national authorities have linked to other crimes including at least 14 reported crashes and eight deaths, has persisted despite automakers unveiling their anti-theft software campaign in mid-February.
“GLA is the root of our crime,” New York City Mayor Eric Adams said, using an acronym for grand auto theft. “Kia and Hyundai drive GLAs.”
Hyundai and Kia said they were accelerating their distribution of the software, with Hyundai saying it had reached 6,000 installations per day. The company says it uses direct mail, phone calls, digital advertising and social media to try to reach affected owners.
Ira Gabriel, a spokesman for Hyundai, said the company tried to remove instructional videos showing how to steal the cars from social media.
“But as new ones surface,” he said, “there have been new waves of thefts.”
Kia said in a statement that it began developing and testing the security software last year.
“The process has moved at an accelerated pace and allowed us to begin rolling out the enhanced security software earlier this year in phases,” the company said.
Security authorities say the companies’ software rollout has been far too slow. Of the 4.5 million Kia vehicles eligible for the patch, the automaker claims to have installed the software on around 210,000, or nearly 5%. Kia says it has sent notifications to around 2.8 million affected owners and expects to have them all notified by the end of the month.
For Hyundai, the figure is around 225,000 out of 3.8 million vehicles, or around 6%. Hyundai said it expects to have contacted all affected vehicle owners by May 18.
The companies’ affected cars, many of which are low-cost models from model years 2011 to early 2022, were not equipped with anti-theft devices. Such a device contains a computer chip in the key which must be recognized by another chip in the steering column before the engines start.
Although most automakers have had the chips for years, Hyundai and Kia have lagged behind the industry as a whole by installing them in many models, allowing thieves to exploit the security flaw. In the 2015 model year, immobilizers were standard on 96% of models from other manufacturers, but only 26% of Hyundai and Kia models, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety said.
HYUNDAIS AND KIAS STOLEN NEARLY TWICE AS OFTEN AS OTHER VEHICLES, NATIONAL STUDY SAYS
The automakers’ service campaign to install the software should have been pursued more aggressively, said Michael Brooks, executive director of the nonprofit Center for Auto Safety.
Brooks suggested that if the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration had handled a recall of the affected vehicles, it would have had a better chance of alerting owners to the danger and the need to seek repair.
“Unless people really follow the news,” he said, “they might not be aware of the flight issues.”
Shakira Ellis, a music teacher from Long Beach, Calif., was among those who hadn’t heard of the thefts — until her 2019 Hyundai Tucson was stolen outside her house around 4 a.m. on April 25. The car, which contained some of his musical instruments, did not come.
Ellis, 26, said her Tucson did not have the immobilizer and she was not told about Hyundai’s campaign to distribute the software patch. If she had, Ellis said, she would have immediately taken it in for repair. She thinks Hyundai should provide her with a new car to replace her stolen vehicle,
“I feel like I should be compensated,” she said. “He was ruined because he’s flawed. And people know that. He’s a target.”
Even with a recall, not everyone brings an affected car to a dealership for repair. Recall completion rates, Brooks said, average only about 60% of owners.
Some of the vehicles, around 15% in the case of Hyundai, cannot be repaired with software. But Hyundai and Kia say they will pay for the anti-theft devices for those owners.
In Minneapolis and other cities, police say teenagers, some of whom are too young to have a driver’s license, have exploited the vulnerability. Often they crash or become involved in other crimes. Minneapolis police have recorded 209 cases of Hyundais or Kias being involved in hit-and-run collisions and are investigating 169 reports that Kias or Hyundais were used in other crimes.
Several cities, including St. Louis, Cleveland, Milwaukee and Seattle, have sued automakers, accusing them of failing to install industry-standard anti-theft devices and placing an excessive burden on city services.
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“Kia and Hyundai put profit over people first by not installing engine immobilizers in these vehicles,” Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb said in announcing his city’s lawsuit.
O’Hara, the Minneapolis police chief, said the robberies are a “public safety crisis” that is overwhelming communities.
“Minors walk around in these stolen models, and when caught by police, he said, they are rarely held accountable for their behavior” by courts and youth correctional systems.
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It can lead to more serious crimes, he said, “until they are very badly injured or kill themselves.”