Some Hyundai and Kia cars and SUVs lack a “key” anti-theft device, and thieves know it.
An insurance group says these cars are stolen almost twice as fast as the rest of the auto industry because their keys don’t have computer chips for theft-immobilization systems.
The thefts apparently began in the Milwaukee area two years ago and spread to multiple Midwestern cities and even Colorado and New Mexico after how-to videos appeared on social media.
The Highway Loss Data Institute, part of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, found that Hyundais and Kias without immobilizers had a claim rate of 2.18 per 1,000 insured vehicle years. The rest of the industry combined had a rate of 1.21. An insured vehicle year is equal to one vehicle insured for one year.
The institute, which released its findings Thursday, compared vehicles from the 2015 through 2019 model years. It examined vehicle theft claims from 2021.
Chip keys, which started popping up in the 1990s, communicate with another chip in the ignition. If they match, the engines will start. If they don’t match, a thief won’t be able to start the engine.
Keys do not have an immobilizer system in several cheaper versions of vehicles from the two South Korean automakers such as the Kia Rio and Sportage and the Hyundai Accent, the institute said.
“Our previous studies show that vehicle theft losses have declined after immobilizers were introduced,” said Matt Moore, the institute’s senior vice president. “Unfortunately, Hyundai and Kia have fallen behind other automakers in making them standard equipment.”
In the 2015 model year, immobilizers were standard on 96% of other manufacturers’ models, the institute said. But they were standard on just 26% of Hyundai and Kia models. The automakers have not explained their decision not to include immobilizers on some models.
Videos show thieves prying off the ignition cover on Hyundai and Kia cars, then using a screwdriver or USB cable to start them and drive away.
Last year in Milwaukee, 66% of the 10,476 stolen vehicles were Hyundai or Kias, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel newspaper. The number of thefts in the city has decreased so far this year. As of Sept. 12, 6,048 vehicles were seized, but 58% of those were Hyundais or Kias, Milwaukee Police said Thursday.
A 17-year-old theft suspect in a viral video about Kia thefts was arrested after police used the video and an anonymous tip to track him down, the Journal Sentinel reported. He could face up to 22 years in prison.
Hyundai and Kia both admitted in statements that thieves are stealing some of their vehicles and said they meet federal safety standards. “It’s unfortunate that criminals are using social media to target vehicles without immobilizers in a coordinated effort,” Kia said.
All Kias 2022 received immobilizers at the beginning of or during the model year. Hyundai said all models produced after November 1, 2021 will have immobilizers as standard.
Kia says it is working to provide steering wheel locks free of charge to authorities in affected areas to deter theft. Hyundai said it will also supply the locks to police and will start selling a security kit targeting the thieves’ methods in October.
Moore of the institute said the vulnerable Hyundais and Kias are among the 20 most popular vehicles with thieves, a distinction normally reserved for powerful or expensive vehicles or pickup trucks. The Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat had the highest rate of theft claims.
Many of the vulnerable Hyundais and Kias are often bought by people with lower incomes. “These are relatively inexpensive vehicles when bought new,” Moore said. Owners of some models may have dropped the extended insurance policy to save money, and may have had to replace the cars themselves, he said.
To help prevent theft, owners should roll up windows, lock doors and take the key or fob with them, the National Insurance Crime Bureau says. They should park in well lit areas or a garage. If they must park outside, owners should consider installing motion sensor lights.
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