Nearly two dozen state attorneys general are demanding that Hyundai and Kia take action to halt what the legal officials say is an “alarming” rash of thefts of the South Korean automakers’ vehicles.
From 2011 to 2022, Hyundai and Kia opted not to equip their cars sold in the U.S. with “engine immobilizers,” an anti-theft device that the states say were standard on other new cars during that period.
“Cars are often one of the largest purchases a family will ever make — and families shouldn’t have to worry that manufacturers are cutting corners that could put their purchase at risk,” California Attorney General Rob Bonta said in a statement. “Hyundai and Kia made a decision to forgo a standard safety feature that would help protect owners’ investments, and now their customers are paying the price. It’s time for Hyundai and Kia to take responsibility for their poor decision which is hurting American families and putting public safety at risk.”
Insurance companies including Progressive and State Farm have stopped providing auto coverage for select Hyundai and Kia vehicle model years and trim levels in some states because thieves were targeting the cars. Bonta and 22 other state attorneys general are calling on the car makers to take “immediate action” to deter thefts.
More theft claims than all other car brands combined
The Highway Loss Data Institute, a unit of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, found in September that Hyundai and Kia vehicles without immobilizers 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.
In a letter, the attorneys general pressed Hyundai and Kia to take immediate action to correct this public safety issue.
Hyundai and Kia in February rolled out free anti-theft software updates for millions of vehicles. The changes extended the length of an alarm sound on the cars from 30 seconds to one minute and requires the key to be in the ignition switch to turn a vehicle on.
In a statement, Kia told CBS MoneyWatch on Monday that it has contacted roughly 1.1 million drivers to inform them of the software upgrade and that it will notify an additional 2 million by the end of March. Dealerships say that installing the tech takes under an hour, the company added.
Kia said it has taken other steps to cut down on thefts, including providing some 23,000 steering-wheel locks to over 120 U.S. law enforcement agencies for them to distribute free of charge and launching a website where drivers can use their VIN to check if a vehicle is eligible for the new software.
“We are also in contact with major insurance carriers so they are aware of the actions we have taken, and we are actively working with them to ensure our customers have access to quality and comprehensive coverage,” Kia said.
According to the states, the software upgrades won’t be available for most Hyundai and Kia owners until June, while some drivers with vehicles made between 2011 and 2022 cannot use the software.
Hyundai also emphasized its own free software upgrade to deter car thieves, noting in a statement that it has contacted more than 1 million motorists. The company is also reimbursing eligible customers for the purchase of a steering-wheel lock.
TikTok “challenge” linked to deaths
The vulnerability of some Hyundai and Kia vehicles emerged in TikTok videos that show how to steal the cars using a USB cord and a screwdriver. The thefts are linked to at least 14 reported crashes and eight fatalities, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
In Los Angeles, thefts of Hyundai and Kia cars surged by 85% in 2022 and accounted for roughly 20% of stolen cars in the city, Bonta’s office said.
Along with California, the states that signed the AG letter to the car makers are Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maryland, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin, along with the District of Columbia.