San Diego

Social Media Trend Spurs Hyundai, Kia Car Thefts

NBC Universal, Inc.

There's been a surge in stolen cars this year, but they don't even need your keys to drive away. Imagine walking out of your home to go to work, but you see your car is nowhere to be found. It's happening in San Diego and across the country.

"I don't see my car, it's gone," said Ashleigh Schlemmer, who had her car stolen from her Connecticut apartment. "I thought I parked it here and I look at the floor, there's literally just a pile of glass."

Surveillance video shows Schlemmer's car being driven away just minutes after someone broke her windows to get inside. Her 2011 Hyundai Elantra has become an "easy target" during this latest boom in car thefts. That's according to the Highway Loss Data Institute's insurance claim data.

"Vehicles that are targeted for theft tend to be either pricey, powerful, or pickup trucks," said Matt Moore, Senior Vice President at HLDI. "These targeted vehicles from Hyundai and Kia are not any of those, so it was a real surprise."

Moore says these older models don't have standard immobilizers, which can prevent a car from starting without the proper key.

"It turns out someone somewhere figured out how to steal these vehicles and disseminated the information about how to do this on social media," said Moore.

Many of these cars are found after, only taken for a joyride.

"I never thought people would just wake up and be like 'Hey, let's go on TikTok, find a video, steal a car,'" said Schlemmer.

It's happening here in San Diego too. Data from the San Diego Police Department shows a spike in both Hyundai and Kia thefts over the summer, although they couldn't tell us the model years.

Between May and August of 2022, 203 of these cars were stolen, compared to only 77 in that same time period last year.

In statements to NBC Responds, Hyundai and Kia both said they are concerned about these specific thefts, but their cars meet or exceed federal motor vehicle safety standards. In a statement to NBC Connecticut, the manufacturers said:

Kia's statement

Kia America is concerned with the rise in vehicle thefts in your area.
While no car can be made completely theft-proof, criminals are targeting vehicles equipped with a steel key and “turn-to-start” ignition system as opposed to those equipped with a key fob and “push-button- to-start” system. Kia America continues to work closely with local law enforcement in affected areas to provide steering wheel lock devices at no cost to concerned owners of steel key operated Kia vehicles not originally equipped with an immobilizer.
All 2022 models and trims have an immobilizer applied either at the beginning of the year or as a running change, and all Kia vehicles meet or exceed Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards.
In addition, Kia is developing and testing software updates to further secure these targeted vehicles and will share more information as it becomes available.
Kia customers with questions regarding their Kia vehicle should contact the Consumer Assistance center directly at 1-800-333-4542 (Kia).

Hyundai's Statement

We remain concerned about the increase in thefts of certain Hyundai vehicles that have been targeted in a coordinated social media campaign. Currently, Hyundai provides steering wheel locks, as available, to law enforcement agencies in impacted areas. In addition, Hyundai will provide two other options for owners of these earlier model year vehicles targeted by thieves.
1. Hyundai has released a glass break sensor security kit that targets the method of entry used by thieves to break into these vehicles. These kits are available for purchase and installation at Hyundai dealerships and Compustar authorized installers across the country. The MSRP for the kit is $170, and the estimated cost for installation may vary by location.
2. Hyundai is also developing a software update to further secure these targeted vehicles. We anticipate that this software update will become available for certain vehicles in the first half of 2023, with updates for other vehicles following thereafter.
Please note that all Hyundai vehicles meet or exceed Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. Some earlier models, without a push-button ignition, do not have engine immobilizers. In November 2021, engine immobilizers became standard on all Hyundai vehicles produced. Customers who have questions can contact the Hyundai Customer Care Center at 800-633-5151.

As for Schlemmer's Hyundai, the company says it is working on a software update that will be available in 2023. For now, the company has provided steering wheel locks to some law enforcement agencies, and owners can purchase a $170 glass break sensor kit.

"If I knew the car wasn't safe to get, we wouldn't have got a brand like that," said Schlemmer. "We would have got another car."

NBC asked Hyundai about Schlemmer's frustration that she was on the hook for a security fix, but Hyundai said the thefts aren't related to a vehicle defect, and the kit is optional protection.

HDLI says that both Hyundai and Kia have lagged behind other automakers when it comes to installing immobilizers. With only 26% of their cars having them installed in 2015, compared to other manufacturers where they were in 96% of vehicles.

If you have one of these cars or know someone who does, experts suggest purchasing other security measures, like wheel or brake locks, or looking to install a kill switch.

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