The San Diego City Attorney's Office sued automakers Hyundai and Kia Friday for allegedly failing to equip their vehicles with sufficient anti-theft technology, which the city says contributed to a recent uptick in car thefts throughout San Diego.
The city alleges Hyundai and Kia's cars are not equipped with immobilizer technology that ensures cars cannot be started without their keys.
The city's lawsuit covers the period stretching from 2011 to 2021 when it claims other carmakers adopted the safety feature while Hyundai and Kia “failed to keep up with the times.”
Similar lawsuits have been filed by other municipalities against both automakers following a rise in thefts reportedly sparked by social media videos in which thieves have demonstrated how the vehicles can be stolen by using USB cables.
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The City Attorney's Office alleges that 146 Hyundai and Kia cars were stolen in San Diego during the first six months of 2022, and 369 cars were taken in the last six months of the year.
The lawsuit details six instances over the last year when stolen Kias and Hyundais were used in crimes in San Diego County.
“Making sure cars are not easy to steal keeps dangerous drivers in stolen vehicles off the road,” San Diego City Attorney Mara W. Elliott said. “Hyundai's and Kia's decisions to put cost savings and profits over public safety has had significant consequences for San Diego and its residents, leading to a substantial increase in vehicle thefts, reckless driving, related crime sprees and public harm.”
Last month, Hyundai and Kia announced a free anti-theft software update to vehicle owners to help prevent thefts. Both automakers say they are working with local law enforcement to provide steering wheel locks to those impacted. The Chula Vista Police Department told NBC 7 it has not received any. NBC 7 also asked the San Diego Police Department and the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, but as of the time this article was published, NBC 7 had not received an answer.
Hyundai sent the following statement to NBC 7:
Hyundai is committed to ensuring the quality and integrity of our products. All Hyundai vehicles meet the anti-theft requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 114. In response to increasing thefts targeting Hyundai vehicles without push-button ignitions and immobilizing anti-theft devices in the U.S., Hyundai has introduced a free anti-theft software upgrade to prevent the vehicles from starting during a method of theft popularized on TikTok and other social media.
All Hyundai vehicles produced since November 2021 are equipped with an engine immobilizer as standard equipment. Hyundai is also providing free steering wheel locks to law enforcement agencies for distribution to local residents who own or lease affected models.
Kia sent the following statement to NBC 7:
Kia remains deeply concerned that car theft targeting certain models – encouraged by social media content promoting criminal conduct – is an issue. To address these crimes, we continue to roll out a free, enhanced security software upgrade to restrict the unauthorized operation of vehicle ignition systems and we are also providing steering wheel locks for impacted owners at no cost through local law enforcement agencies. To date, Kia has already contacted over 1.5 million owners and lessees of Kia vehicles to let them know of the availability of the software upgrade and to advise them to schedule a free installation at any Kia dealer. We have also shipped or are in the process of shipping over 23,000 free steering wheel locks to over 120 law enforcement agencies across the country and we will provide additional locks as they are needed.
Lawsuits against Kia by municipalities are without merit. All Kia vehicles are subject to and comply fully with rigorous testing rules and regulations outlined in the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, including under FMVSS 114 that governs ignition security systems and theft protection. Kia has been and continues to be willing to work cooperatively with local officials in San Diego and law enforcement agencies across the city to combat car theft and the role social media has played in encouraging it.
Customers should visit https://ksupport.kiausa.com/ConsumerAffairs/SWLD for more information on their eligibility for the upgrade or to learn more about directly obtaining a steering wheel lock.