About three months ago, Hyundai and Kia unveiled software designed to thwart an epidemic of thefts of their vehicles caused by a security flaw that surfaced on TikTok and other social media sites. had come.
So far, this has not resolved the problem. Thieves are still taking away vehicles indiscriminately across the country.
Data from seven US cities collected by The Associated Press shows that the number of stolen Hyundai and Kia cars is still on the rise, despite efforts by the companies to fix the glitch, which leaves 8.3 million vehicles relatively accessible to thieves. Makes easy targets.
From Minneapolis, Cleveland and St. Louis to New York, Seattle, Atlanta and Grand Rapids, Michigan, police reported substantial year-over-year increases in Hyundai and Kia theft reports through April. An eighth city, Denver, which was hit early by the burglary outbreak, reported a 23% decline from 2022 levels but still suffered a high number of burglaries.
So far this year, Minneapolis police have received 1,899 reports of thefts involving Kia and Hyundai, nearly 18 times more than the same period in 2022.
“The scope of the problem is only expanding and is exponentially worse than in the past,” Minneapolis Police Chief Brian O’Hara said in an email. “We have some weeks where almost as many Kias and Hyundais are stolen in one week as were previously stolen in a year.”
Recent nationwide numbers on thefts from Hyundai and Kia are not yet publicly available. Figures for the beginning of 2023 calculated by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety will be released later 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 auto theft reports now involve Hyundais or Kias. Videos on TikTok and other sites that show how to start and steal Kia and Hyundai models — using only a screwdriver and a USB cable — have allowed theft to spread across the country since late 2021.
In New York, the Hyundai-Kia theft problem has become so worrisome that the city held a news conference last month to offer owners devices that can track their vehicles if they are stolen. Police reported 966 Hyundai and Kia thefts as of April 30 – nearly seven times the number in the same period in 2022.
The troubling theft rate, which authorities have linked to at least 14 accidents nationally and eight deaths among other crimes, persists despite automakers unveiling their anti-theft software campaign in mid-February.
New York Mayor Eric Adams said, “The GLA is driving our crime.” “Kia and Hyundai are driving the GLA.”
Hyundai and Kia have said they are ramping up their distribution of the software, with Hyundai saying it has reached 6,000 installations a day. The company says it is using direct mail, phone calls, digital advertising and social media to reach out to affected owners.
Ira Gabriel, a spokesman for Hyundai, said the company had tried to remove instructional videos from social media showing how to steal cars.
“But as new ones emerge,” he said, “there have been additional waves of thefts.”
Kia said in a statement that it started developing and testing the safety software last year.
“The process was quick and allowed us to roll out the upgraded security software in a phased manner earlier this year,” the company said.
Security officials say the companies’ software rollout has been very slow. Of the 4.5 million Kia vehicles that are eligible for the fix, the automaker says the software is installed on about 210,000 — about 5%. Kia says it has sent notifications to about 2.8 million affected owners and expects to notify them all by the end of this month.
For Hyundai, the figure is around 225,000 out of 3.8 million vehicles – about 6%. Hyundai said it hopes to contact all affected vehicle owners by May 18.
The companies’ affected cars, many of them low-cost models from 2011 to early 2022 model years, were not equipped with anti-stealing immobilizers. Such a device has a computer chip in the key that must be recognized by another chip in the steering column before the engine can start.
Although most automakers have had the chips for years, Hyundai and Kia have lagged behind the entire industry in installing them on many models, allowing thieves to exploit the security gap. In the 2015 model year, immobilizers were standard on 96% of models from other manufacturers, but on only 26% of Hyundai and Kia models, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety said.
Automakers’ service campaigns 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 managed to recall the affected vehicles, it would have had a better chance of alerting owners to the danger and the need for repairs.
“Unless people are really following the news,” he said, “they may not know about piracy issues.”
Shakira Ellis, a music instructor from Long Beach, California, was among those who hadn’t heard about the theft — until her 2019 Hyundai Tucson was stolen in front of her home at 4 a.m. on April 25. The musical instruments of the car, which had some luggage, did not come.
Ellis, 26, said her Tucson lacks an immobilizer, and she was not informed of Hyundai’s campaign to distribute the software fix. Alice said, if she had, she would have immediately taken it to be fixed. He feels that Hyundai should give him a new car to replace his stolen vehicle,
“I think I should be compensated,” she said. “It’s doomed because it’s flawed. And people know it. It’s a goal.
Even with the recall, not everyone takes the affected car to a dealer to get it fixed. Recall the closing rates, Brooks said, average only about 60% of owners.
Some vehicles, in Hyundai’s case about 15%, cannot be fixed with software. But both Hyundai and Kia say they will pay for the anti-theft device for those owners.
In Minneapolis and other cities, police say teenagers, some of them too young to hold a driver’s license, have taken advantage of the vulnerability. Often they get into accidents or are involved in other crimes. Minneapolis police have registered 209 cases of Hyundai or Kias being involved in hit-and-run injury accidents, and they are investigating 169 reports that Kias or Hyundais were used in other crimes.
Several cities, including St. Louis, Cleveland, Milwaukee and Seattle, have sued the automakers, accusing them of failing to install industry-standard anti-theft devices and placing an undue burden on city services.
In announcing his city’s lawsuit, Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb said, “Kia and Hyundai prioritized profit by not installing engine immobilizers in these vehicles.”
Minneapolis Police Chief O’Hara said the thefts are a “public safety crisis” that is overwhelming communities.
“Juveniles are reveling in these stolen models, and when they are caught by the police, they are rarely held accountable for their behavior by the courts and youth corrections systems,” he said.
This can lead to more serious crimes, he said, “unless they are very seriously injured or kill themselves.”
Associated Press news researcher Rhonda Schaffner contributed to this report from New York.