Despite the development of a free fix for owners to protect certain older model year Hyundai and Kia vehicles from short circuits, the problem continues to smolder for Hyundai Motor America and Kia America.
On February 14, the Korean automakers, both part of Hyundai Motor Group, launched a service campaign in the form of a software update for 8.4 million Hyundai and Kia vehicles missing a crucial anti-theft device called an immobilizer.
An engine immobilizer electronically binds a vehicle to its key fob and prevents it from being started without the device.
The software update extends the duration of the vehicle’s existing alarm from 30 seconds to one minute and requires the key to be placed in the ignition for the vehicle to turn on. The campaign announcement also came from NHTSA.
But a day after the service campaign was issued, the city of Columbus, Ohio — which calculated a nearly 500 percent increase in thefts from Kia and Hyundai vehicles from 2021 to 2022 — filed a lawsuit against Hyundai and Kia, alleging automakers would know their vehicles were more vulnerable to theft without immobilizers and still didn’t include them as standard equipment.
Columbus City attorney Zach Klein told Automotive News that the city “has been in conversation with Kia and Hyundai about how the ease of stealing some of their cars has wreaked havoc across the country.” Klein said while they hope the free fix “stops the bleeding,” the level of damage done to the city needs to be addressed.
Columbus is the second city to sue the automakers. In January, Seattle filed a similar case, citing a 620 percent increase in theft of Hyundai models between July 2021 and 2022. The lawsuit alleges that Hyundai and Kia could have spent approximately $500 per vehicle to install the immobilizers once thefts “skyrocketed.”
Hyundai released a statement last week stating, “Hyundai believes this litigation is inappropriate and unnecessary.”
The Seattle lawsuit also alleges that the original decision not to include immobilizers violated industry-wide standards and that it “created a public nuisance” that could have been avoided.
Insurance giants State Farm and Progressive have also stopped writing new policies for affected models.
“State Farm has temporarily stopped accepting new customer applications for certain model years and trim levels of Hyundai and Kia vehicles in some states due to a dramatic increase in theft losses for those vehicles,” a State Farm spokesman said.
Progressive took similar action.
“In response to this explosion in theft, we have continued to insure our existing customers who own affected models, but in fairness to our existing policyholders, we have also restricted our sale of new policies or increased rates in certain locations,” said a spokesman for Progressive told Automotive News in a statement.
The spokesman said Progressive is “hopeful that this software upgrade will be effective in deterring thieves” and will “closely monitor manufacturer actions, consumer adoption rates and the effectiveness of the updates.”