Social media-inspired thieves are stealing certain models of Kias and Hyundais with little more than a phone charger.
The trend started in Milwaukee before spreading to cities across the country. It has led to several lawsuits against the automakers. The plaintiffs allege that Kia and Hyundai defrauded consumers by selling unsafe vehicles that lacked a common form of anti-theft technology, making them easy targets for thieves.
Automakers have taken some steps to prevent further thefts, including providing free steering wheel locks by local police departments, according to statements emailed to NerdWallet.
Prevention is important. Having your car stolen is disruptive and expensive, provided you have to replace or repair your vehicle if it is recovered. However, if you own one of the affected Kia or Hyundai models, you could face additional consequences, including more expensive insurance and a lower resale value for a vehicle that is known to be easily stolen.
Here’s what you need to know about the Kia and Hyundai theft wave – 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 few months show how to steal certain Kia and Hyundai models sold between 2011 and 2021. These models use a key and not a push start ignition system.
These vehicles do not have immobilizers that use electronic signals to prevent the car from starting without the correct key. Most cars made in the last 20 years are equipped with immobilizers because they have been so effective in reducing car theft.
Brazen videos featuring the “Kia Boys” in Milwaukee show how to steal those Kias and Hyundais that don’t have immobilizers. You do this with a screwdriver, or even with something as ubiquitous as a USB cable.
In response to the rise in theft, Hyundai is now installing immobilizers in all vehicles, starting with those manufactured after November 1, 2021, according to a statement sent to NerdWallet by Hyundai Motor America. In a separate statement, Kia America said all 2022 models will have an immobilizer.
The targeted thefts began 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 the St. Paul Police Department. In the same period this year, that number rose to 334 Kia and 288 Hyundai thefts.
The Kia and Hyundai thefts add to a national auto theft problem that has lasted two years. The National Insurance Crime Bureau, which analyzes crime data, reported that vehicle crime has increased since 2020, with carjacking and catalytic converter thefts approaching record highs. Almost a million vehicles will be stolen in 2021, the NICB said in an email. Of these, about 782,300 were passenger cars.
Theft can have far-reaching consequences for car owners
But the way certain Kias and Hyundais are being targeted makes insurance a trickier issue for those particular car owners — even if they haven’t had their car stolen. As risk increases, so do insurance premiums.
“It also depends on the insurer and their claims experience, but if a company has experienced a lot of losses from customers owning a vehicle that can be stolen for parts etc., that can result in higher premiums,” Worters said. “We already see that with certain car models that are stolen most frequently.”
Resale values could also take a hit now, as there’s widespread knowledge that these vehicles are at greater risk of theft, says Christine Hines, legislative director at 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 surrounding the nationwide trend underscore automakers’ responsibility to act, Hines says.
“That was something they could foresee because most other manufacturers had anti-theft devices like this,” says Hines. “You just don’t want people to be endangered. That’s up to the manufacturers. They should act quickly to ensure the safety of their customers.”
How to prevent car theft
With car thefts of all kinds are increasing during the pandemic, all car owners should take precautions to avoid becoming a victim. NICB recommends ensuring insurance policies are current, taking valuables with you or keeping them out of sight when exiting your car, locking your car when unoccupied, and parking in well-lit areas.
If you own a 2011-2021 Kia or Hyundai, check with your automaker about your specific vehicle to find out if you’re at a higher risk of auto theft and what the manufacturer will do to help.
Kia owners can call customer service at 1-800-333-4542.
Hyundai owners should call 800-633-5151.
The free steering wheel locks that Kia and Hyundai provide are a visible deterrent that could deter someone from breaking into your vehicle and attempting 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 purchase a Compustar security kit that would help deter theft. The kit will be available from October 1st and would need to be installed at a Hyundai dealer or by Compustar.
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