Kia, Hyundai Cars Lack Theft Deterrent

By Staff Writer September 29, 2022

Bargain-priced vehicles manufactured by Kia and Hyundai now rival muscle cars and luxury SUVs as top theft targets, according to a Highway Loss Data Institute analysis of 2021 insurance claims.

Among newer models, whole vehicle theft claims were highest for the Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat, relative to its numbers on the road over 2018-22. But among 2015-19 model-year vehicles, theft claims were nearly twice as common for Hyundai and Kia vehicles as a group as for all other manufacturers.

“Car theft spiked during the pandemic,” said institute Senior Vice President Matt Moore. “These numbers tell us that some vehicles may be targeted because they’re fast or worth a lot of money and others because they’re easy to steal.”

Many 2015-19 Hyundai and Kia vehicles lack electronic immobilizers that prevent thieves from simply breaking in and bypassing the ignition. The feature is standard equipment on nearly all vehicles of that vintage made by other manufacturers.

“Our earlier studies show that vehicle theft losses plunged after immobilizers were introduced,” said Moore. “Unfortunately, Hyundai and Kia have lagged behind other automakers in making them standard equipment.”

Immobilizers were already standard on 62 percent of models from other manufacturers in model year 2000. But even in model year 2015, when immobilizers were standard on 96 percent of other manufacturers’ vehicles, they were standard on only 26 percent of Hyundai and Kia vehicle models.

“If it doesn’t have an immobilizer, it does make it somewhat easier to steal,” said Darrell Russell, a former auto theft investigator who now works with the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB).

In 2021, that comparative ease went viral on social media. In one of the earliest-affected states, Wisconsin, the fad caused overall losses from Hyundai-Kia thefts — the amount paid on theft claims per insured vehicle year — to soar to more than 30 times the 2019 level. An insured vehicle year refers to one vehicle insured for one year, two vehicles insured for six months and so forth.

“Hyundai is concerned about the recent rise in auto thefts of certain vehicles,” the company said in a statement. “While all of our vehicles meet or exceed Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, unfortunately, our vehicles have been targeted in a coordinated effort on social media.”

Kia said their vehicles meet federal standards, too. The company added that “criminals are seeking vehicles solely equipped with a steel key and turn-to-start ignition system” and “the majority of Kia vehicles in the United States are equipped with a key fob and push-button-to-start system” that makes them more difficult to steal.

Russell said that the joyriding videos posted on social media suggest that most Hyundai and Kia vehicles are stolen only to be abandoned later.

“When you forcibly break the ignition, you’re causing so much damage that it’s not easy to re-VIN and resell the vehicle on the open market,” Russell said, referring to thieves who replace VIN with fake ones or substitutes from salvaged vehicles.

The engine immobilizer receiver is usually located in your vehicle's steering column, close to the ignition. The transponder key is attached to your physical key fob. If you're driving a vehicle with a push start, the transponder key is part of the electronic key you need to keep with you when you start your car.

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Last modified on Wednesday, 05 October 2022 13:18