Nearly three months ago, Hyundai and Kia unveiled software designed to prevent an epidemic of theft of their vehicles, due to a security flaw exposed by TikTok and other social networks. media site.
So far, this has not solved the problem. Across the country, thieves are still making off with cars at an alarming rate.
Data from seven US cities gathered by The Associated Press show that the number of Hyundai and Kia thefts is still growing despite the companies’ efforts to fix the glitch, making 8.3 million vehicles that are easy targets for thieves.
From Minneapolis, Cleveland and St. Louis to New York, Seattle, Atlanta and Grand Rapids, Michigan, police reported year-over-year increases in Hyundai and Kia theft reports through April. An eighth city, Denver, which was hit early in the burglary boom, reported a 23% decrease from 2022 levels but still suffered from more burglaries.
So far this year, Minneapolis police have received 1,899 Kia and Hyundai theft reports, nearly 18 times the number for the same period in 2022.
“The scope of the problem is only getting wider and worse than ever,” Brian O’Hara, the Minneapolis police chief, said in an email. “We’ve had some weeks where almost as many Kias and Hyundais were stolen in a week as there used to be in a year.”
The latest nationwide figures on Hyundai and Kia thefts are not yet publicly available. Figures for early 2023, as calculated by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, will not be released until later this year. (Hyundai and Kia are part of the same South Korean corporate family.)
Some US cities report that 60% or more of their car theft reports now involve Hyundais or Kias. Videos on TikTok and other sites illustrating how to start and steal Kia and Hyundai models – with just a screwdriver and a USB cable – allowed thefts to spread across the country since late 2021 .
In New York, the Hyundai-Kia theft problem is so worrisome that the city held a news conference last month to offer owners devices that can track their vehicles if they are stolen. Police there reported 966 Hyundai and Kia thefts on April 30 – nearly seven times the number for the same period in 2022.
The alarming rate of theft, which the country’s authorities have linked to other crimes including at least 14 reported crashes and eight deaths, continues despite automakers opening up their anti-theft software campaign in mid-February.
“The GLA is driving our crime,” said New York Mayor Eric Adams, using an acronym for grand larceny of cars. “Kia and Hyundai drive the GLAs.”
Hyundai and Kia say they are accelerating their distribution of the software, with Hyundai saying it has reached 6,000 installations a day. The company said it is using direct mail, phone calls, digital advertising and social media to try to reach affected owners.
Ira Gabriel, a spokesman for Hyundai, said the company has tried to remove from social media instructional videos that show how to steal cars.
“But as new ones emerge,” he said, “there will be more waves of theft.”
Kia said in a statement that it began developing and testing the security software last year.
“The process happened at a fast pace and allowed us to start rolling out the improved security software earlier this year in phases,” the company said.
Safety authorities say the companies’ software rollout is too slow. Of the 4.5 million Kia vehicles eligible for the fix, the automaker says it has installed the software in about 210,000 — nearly 5%. Kia said it has sent notices to about 2.8 million affected owners and expects to notify them all by the end of this month.
For Hyundai, the number is about 225,000 out of 3.8 million vehicles – almost 6%. Hyundai said it expects to contact all affected car owners by May 18.
The companies’ affected vehicles, most of them cheaper models from the 2011 to early 2022 model years, are not equipped with an anti-theft immobilizer. Such a device has a computer chip in the key that must be recognized by another chip in the steering column before the engines start.
Although most automakers have had the chips for years, Hyundai and Kia have lagged behind the industry as a whole in installing them in many models, thus allowing thieves to exploit the security gap. In the 2015 model year, immobilizers were standard on 96% of other manufacturers’ models but on only 26% of Hyundai and Kia models, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety said.
The automakers’ service campaign to install the software should be more aggressively pursued, said Michael Brooks, executive director of the nonprofit Center for Auto Safety.
Brooks suggested that if the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration had been able to recall the affected vehicles, it would have had a better chance of alerting owners to the danger and need to find a fix. .
“Unless people really follow the news,” he said, “they might not know about the theft issues.”
Shakira Ellis, a music instructor from Long Beach, California, was one of those who hadn’t heard about the thefts – until her 2019 Hyundai Tucson was stolen in front of her house around 4 a.m. on April 25. The car, with some of his musical instruments, did not appear.
Ellis, 26, said his Tucson lacked an immobilizer, and he was not notified of Hyundai’s campaign to distribute the software fix. If it was up to him, Ellis said, he would have taken it in for repair. He felt that Hyundai should give him a new car to replace his stolen car,
“I feel like I have to pay,” he said. “It’s broken because there’s a defect. And people know. It’s a target.”
Even with a recall, not everyone takes an affected vehicle to a dealer for repair. Recall completion rates, Brooks said, are typically only about 60% of owners.
Some of the vehicles, about 15% in Hyundai’s case, cannot be repaired using the software. But Hyundai and Kia say they will pay for anti-theft devices for owners.
In Minneapolis and other cities, police say teenagers, some of them too young to have a driver’s license, are taking advantage of the vulnerability. They usually crash or are involved in other crimes. Minneapolis police recorded 209 cases of Hyundais or Kias involved in hit-and-run injury crashes, and they investigated 169 reports that Kias or Hyundais were used in other crimes.
Many cities, including St. Louis, Cleveland, Milwaukee and Seattle, sued the automakers, accusing them of failing to install industry-standard anti-theft devices and placing an undue burden on service providers. in the city.
“Kia and Hyundai are putting people’s profits first by not putting engine immobilizers on these vehicles,” Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb said in announcing his city’s lawsuit.
O’Hara, the Minneapolis police chief, said the thefts are a “public safety crisis” that is overwhelming communities.
“Young people are happy to ride stolen models, and when the police catch them, he said, they are rarely held accountable for their behavior” in the courts and juvenile corrections system.
That can lead to more serious crimes, he said, “until they get seriously injured or kill themselves.”
Photo: A line of 2022 Santa Fe SUVs sits outside a Hyundai dealership in Littleton, Colo. Almost three months after Hyundai and Kia rolled out new software designed to curb rampant car theft, thieves are still running off vehicles at an alarming rate. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
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