Some Hyundai and Kia cars and SUVs do not have a “keyless” anti-theft device, making them easy targets for car thieves.
A group of insurance companies says these cars are stolen at nearly twice the rate of the rest of the auto industry because their engines don’t have “immobilizer” systems, an electronic safety device that prevents the car from starting without the correct key.
The thefts apparently began in the Milwaukee area two years ago and spread to several Midwestern cities as far away as Colorado and New Mexico after training videos surfaced on social media.
The Highway Loss Data Institute, a division of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, found that Hyundais and Kias without immobilizers have a vehicle theft rate of 2.18 per 1,000 insured vehicle-years. The rest of the industry together had an indicator of 1.21. A year of vehicle insurance is equal to one vehicle insured for one year.
The institute, which published its findings on Thursday, compared vehicles from 2015 to 2019. He studied vehicle theft claims from 2021.
Chip keys, or transponders, which began to appear in the mid-80s, communicate with a sensor in the car’s ignition switch. If the registration code on the chip matches the identification code stored in the car’s computer system, the engine will start. If the codes don’t match, the engine won’t start, adding an important layer of protection against car thieves.
Immobilizers are not included in cheaper models
Transponder-based immobilizer systems are missing from several low-cost versions of the two South Korean automakers’ cars, such as the Kia Rio and Sportage and Hyundai Accent, the institute said.
“Our previous research shows that vehicle theft losses have fallen since immobilizers were implemented,” said Matt Moore, senior vice president of the institute. “Unfortunately, Hyundai and Kia have lagged behind other automakers in standard equipment.”
According to the institute, in the 2015 model year, immobilizers were standard for 96% of models from other manufacturers. But they were standard on only 26% of Hyundai and Kia models. Automakers did not explain their decision not to include immobilizers in some models.
Car theft hacks are going viral
In the video, thieves can be seen ripping the ignition cover off Hyundai and Kia cars, then using a screwdriver or USB cable to start them and drive away.
According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 66 percent of the 10,476 stolen cars in Milwaukee last year were Hyundais or Kias. This year, the number of thefts in the city has decreased. As of Sept. 12, 6,048 vehicles had been seized, 58 percent of which were Hyundais or Kias, Milwaukee police said Thursday.
One 17-year-old theft suspect in a viral Kia theft video has been arrested after police used the video and an anonymous tip to track him down, the Journal Sentinel reports. He may face up to 22 years in prison.
Hyundai and Kia acknowledged in statements that thieves steal some of their vehicles and said they meet federal safety standards. “It is unfortunate that criminals are using social media in a concerted effort to target vehicles without engine immobilizers,” Kia said.
All 2022 Kias received immobilizers either at the start of or throughout the model year. Hyundai has said that all models released after November 1, 2021 will have immobilizers as standard equipment.
Kia says it is working to provide owners in affected areas with free steering wheel locks to help prevent theft. Hyundai said it is also providing locks to local police to distribute to Hyundai owners, and that in October it will start selling a security kit that targets the thieves’ methods.
A spokesman for the Moore Institute said vulnerable Hyundais and Kias are among the 20 most popular cars among thieves, which is usually reserved for powerful and expensive cars or pickup trucks. The Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat had the highest percentage of reported thefts.
Many vulnerable Hyundais and Kias are often bought by people with low incomes. “These are relatively inexpensive vehicles if you buy them new,” Moore said. Owners of some models may have opted out of comprehensive insurance to save money and may have had to replace the cars themselves, he said.
To prevent theft, homeowners should close windows, lock doors and carry a key or fob, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau. They should be parked in well-lit areas or in a garage. If they have to park outdoors, owners should consider installing lights with motion sensors.