Why some Hyundai and Kia cars are easy prey for car thieves

Some Hyundai and Kia cars and SUVs lack an anti-theft “key” device, making them an easy target for car thieves.

An insurance industry group says these cars are stolen at nearly twice the rate of the rest of the auto industry because their engines lack “immobilizer” systems, which is an electronic safety device that prevents the car from starting without the ignition key. properly.

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 keys, or transponders, which began appearing in the mid-1980s, communicate with a sensor in the vehicle’s ignition switch. If the registration code on the chip matches the ID 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 the cheaper models

Transponder-based immobilizer systems are not present in some lower-priced versions of vehicles from the two South Korean automakers such as 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.

Car theft hacks go viral

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 had been taken, 58% of which 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 owners in affected areas to prevent theft. Hyundai said it is also providing locks for local police to distribute to Hyundai owners, and that in October, it will begin selling a security device aimed at thieves’ methods.

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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