Aug 27, 2022 - Economy

Thieves across America are stealing Hyundais and Kias in seconds

Illustration of a burglar with a big car in a bag over his back.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

It can take as little as under a minute to steal some Hyundai and Kia models, and it's happening all across the country.

Why it matters: The widespread problem is attributed to design flaws in the cars, forcing owners to resort — for now — to an old-fashioned steering wheel lock if they want to keep their vehicles safe.

  • Hyundai is telling customers that if they want a specialized security kit to protect their vehicle, they'll need to pay for it.
  • The equipment, a "starter interrupt and siren" that "targets the method of entry thieves are using," will be available starting Oct. 1 for Hyundai vehicles at an undisclosed cost, Hyundai said in a statement.
  • Kia says it is not offering a security kit at this time.

How it works: Thieves bust a window and remove part of the steering column's cover, exposing the ignition. They break the ignition cylinder off and start the vehicle with a flathead screwdriver or USB plug-in.

  • They're "just the perfect size to put in the opening," Sam Hussein, president of Metrotech Automotive Group auto repair in Dearborn, Mich., tells Axios.
  • The method works on 2011-2021 Kias and 2016-2021 Hyundais that use a steel key, not a fob and push-button start. They are targeting cars that lack engine immobilizers — devices that don't allow the car to start without the correct smart key present, per the automakers.
  • Damage can run between $2,000-$3,000, Hussein estimates. And getting the car back may take a while, he says, as some parts are on backorder due to the increased demand.

The intrigue: Officials link some of the thefts to a trend shown in a viral YouTube video in Milwaukee that interviews members of the so-called "Kia Boys." They demonstrate how they purportedly steal the cars so quickly.

State of play: Some areas say Kias and Hyundais are disappearing in greater numbers this summer, including the Midwest, where a Kia spokesperson tells Axios the problem is most prominent.

  • Detroit had 111 Kias stolen in July and 22 in the first nine days of August, per its police department. That's up from 23 in June and 11 or fewer in all previous months of 2022.
  • Charlotte, N.C., police report 156 Kia and Hyundai thefts since June 20, a 346% increase from 35 incidents in the same timeframe last year.
  • Per the NICB's 2021 Hot Wheels report, seven of the top 10 most stolen vehicles in Wisconsin were Kias or Hyundais. But none of those vehicles made the top 10 in the state in the 2020 report.

Meanwhile, the automakers are getting sued across the country, including a two-plaintiff class-action suit in Iowa, a class-action in Wisconsin and two class-action suits centering Ohio theft victims, per court records and law firms.

  • Car owners allege a failure to disclose design defects that make the cars easy to steal. Now, despite admitting the problem, the companies still "refuse to fix them" or "compensate consumers," the Iowa suit reads.
  • "Offering [a security kit] and then charging them to install it is not acceptable," Jeffrey Goldenberg, an attorney in a five-plaintiff suit of mostly Ohio residents filed earlier this month, tells Axios.

What they're saying: Hyundai is aware its cars "have been targeted in a coordinated effort on social media," a statement provided to Axios says. The separate Kia and Hyundai brands share a parent company, Hyundai Motor Group.

  • Hyundai added that all its vehicles "meet or exceed Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards." Cars being produced now all have the immobilizers that make them tougher to steal.

Worth noting: The "Kia Boys" influence is far from ubiquitous. Officials in Houston, Austin, Salt Lake City and Richmond, Va., tell Axios reporters they aren't seeing this trend.

Zoom in: Richard Eldredge reported his 2019 Kia Soul stolen from the parking lot of his Midtown Atlanta apartment building on July 7, he tells Axios. The car was discovered the next day, damaged. He's now waiting on parts due to the supply-chain logjam.

  • "Who on Earth would have thought that a dad-ride like a Kia Soul would have been targeted by teenagers?" the Atlanta journalist and senior editor at VOX ATL said.
  • "It's [because it's] a social media trend and it's easy to do. Lamborghinis are a little tougher to rip off."

Editor's note: This story was corrected to note that Hyundai Motor Group is the two brands' parent company, not Hyundai Motor Co.

Axios Local's Everett Cook edited this story, and Kim Bojórquez, Joe Guillen, Jay Jordan, Joann Muller, Karri Peifer, Asher Price, Katie Peralta Soloff and Thomas Wheatley contributed.

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