Hyundai and Kia cars continue to be stolen due to hacking, study reveals

Some Hyundai and Kia cars and SUVs lack an anti-theft “key” device, and thieves know it.

An insurance industry group says these cars are stolen at nearly twice the rate of the rest of the auto industry because their keys lack computer chips for anti-theft “immobilizer” systems.

The thefts apparently started in the Milwaukee area two years ago and spread to multiple cities in the Midwest and as far away as Colorado and New Mexico after tip-off videos surfaced on social media.

The Highway Loss Data Institute, a unit of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, found that Hyundais and Kias without immobilizers had an auto theft claim rate of 2.18 per 1,000 insured vehicle years. The rest of the industry combined had a rate of 1.21. One year of insured vehicle is equal to one insured vehicle for one year.

The institute, which released its findings Thursday, compared vehicles from the 2015 to 2019 model years. It studied vehicle theft claims from 2021.

Chip switches, which began appearing in the 1990s, communicate with another chip in the ignition switch. If they match, the motors will start. If they don’t match, a thief can’t start the engine.

Keys do not have an immobilizer system on some lower-priced versions of vehicles from the two South Korean automakers such as the Kia Rio and Sportage and Hyundai Accent, the institute said.

“Our previous studies show that vehicle theft losses dropped after immobilizers were introduced,” said Matt Moore, the institute’s senior vice president. “Unfortunately, Hyundai and Kia have lagged 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 only 26% of Hyundai and Kia models. Car manufacturers have not explained their decision not to include immobilizers in some models.

The videos show thieves prying off the ignition lid of Hyundai and Kia vehicles, then use a screwdriver or USB cable to start them and drive away.

Last year in Milwaukee, 66% of the 10,476 stolen vehicles were Hyundais or Kias, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The number of burglaries has slowed in the city so far this year. Through Sept. 12, 6,048 vehicles were taken, but 58% of them were Hyundais or Kias, Milwaukee police said Thursday.

A 17-year-old burglary suspect in a viral Kia burglary video 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 acknowledged in statements that thieves are stealing some of their vehicles and said they meet federal safety standards. “It is unfortunate that criminals are using social media to target vehicles without engine immobilizers in a coordinated effort,” Kia said.

All 2022 Kias received immobilizers either at the beginning or during the model year. Hyundai said all models produced after November 1, 2021 have immobilizers as standard equipment.

Kia says it is working to provide steering wheel locks at no cost to authorities in affected areas to prevent theft. Hyundai said it is also providing locks for police and that in October, it will start selling a security device that targets the methods of thieves.

The institute’s Moore said vulnerable Hyundais and Kias rank among the 20 most popular vehicles with thieves, a distinction usually 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 people with lower incomes. “These are relatively inexpensive vehicles when purchased new,” Moore said. Owners of some of the models may have opted out of comprehensive insurance to save money and may have had to replace the cars themselves, he said.

To help prevent theft, homeowners 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 in a garage. If they must park outside, owners should consider installing motion sensor lights.

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