Some Hyundai and Kia cars and SUVs are missing a “key” anti-theft device, and thieves know.
An insurance industry group claims these cars are stolen at nearly twice as much compared to vehicles from the rest of the auto industry, because their keys lack computer chips for theft “immobiliser” systems.
The thefts apparently started in the Milwaukee area of Wisconsin two years ago, and spread to multiple Midwest cities — even as far away as Colorado and New Mexico, after instructional videos appeared on social media.
The Highway Loss Data Institute — a unit of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety — found that Hyundai and Kia vehicles without immobilisers had a vehicle theft 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 issued its findings on Thursday, compared vehicles from the 2015 through 2019 model years, and studied vehicle theft claims from 2021.
Chip keys, which started to show up in the 1990s, communicate with another chip in the ignition switch. If they match, the engines will start. If they don’t match, a thief cannot start the engine.
Keys don’t have an immobiliser system in several lower-priced versions of vehicles from the two South Korean automakers, such as the Kia Rio and Sportage, and the Hyundai Accent, the institute said.
“Our earlier studies show that vehicle theft losses plunged after immobilisers were introduced,” said Matt Moore, senior vice president of the institute.
“Unfortunately, Hyundai and Kia have lagged behind other automakers in making them standard equipment.”
In the 2015 model year, immobilisers were standard on 96 per cent of other manufacturers’ models, the institute said. However, they were standard on only 26 per cent of Hyundai and Kia models. The car makers haven’t explained their decision to not include immobilisers on some models.
Videos show thieves prying the ignition cover off the Hyundai and Kia vehicles, and then using a screwdriver/USB cable to start them and drive away.
Last year in Milwaukee, 66 per cent of the 10,476 stolen vehicles were Hyundai/Kia vehicles, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel newspaper. The number of thefts has slowed in the city so far this year. Through September 12, 6,048 vehicles were taken, but 58 per cent of them were Hyundai/Kia vehicles, Milwaukee police said on Thursday.
In a viral video about Kia thefts, a 17-year-old theft suspect 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 conceded in statements that thieves were stealing some of their vehicles and said they met federal safety standards.
“It is unfortunate that criminals are using social media to target vehicles without engine immobilisers in a coordinated effort,” Kia said.
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All 2022 Kia vehicles got immobilisers either at the start of, or during, the model year. Hyundai said all models produced after November 1, 2021 have immobilisers as standard equipment.
Kia says it is working to provide steering wheel locks at no cost to authorities in affected areas, so as to deter thefts. Hyundai said it was also providing the locks to the police, and that in October, it would start selling a security kit that targeted the thieves’ methods.
The institute’s Moore said that the vulnerable Hyundai and Kia vehicles rank among the 20 most popular vehicles with thieves — a distinction normally reserved for high-powered 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 lower-income people.
“These are relatively inexpensive vehicles when purchased new,” Moore said. Owners of some of the models may have dropped comprehensive insurance to save money, and may have had to replace the cars on their own, he said.
To help prevent theft, owners should roll up windows, lock doors, and take the key/fob with them, the National Insurance Crime Bureau says. They should park in well-lit areas, or a garage. If they have to park outdoors, owners should consider installing motion-sensor lights.