Easily stolen Hyundais and Kias should be recalled, say more than a dozen attorneys general

(CNN) A coalition of attorneys general for 17 states and the District of Columbia on Thursday called for a federal recall of Hyundai and Kia vehicles they say are unsafe and too easy to steal.

The attorney general requested the recall “following the companies’ continued failure to take adequate steps to address the alarming rate of theft of their vehicles,” said a statement from California Attorney General Rob Bonta, who leads the coalition.

In a letter to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the coalition called for the recall of “unsafe” Hyundai and Kia vehicles manufactured between 2011 and 2022 “whose easily bypassed ignition switches and lack of immobilizers make them particularly vulnerable to theft.”

The affected vehicles, 2015-2019 Hyundai and Kia models, such as the Hyundai Santa Fe and Tucson and the Kia Forte and Sportage, when equipped with turnkey ignitions – as opposed to cars that only require the push of a button to start – It is about twice as likely to be stolen as other vehicles of the same age. Many of these vehicles lack some of the basic auto-theft prevention technology included in most other vehicles, even these years, according to the Highway Loss Data Institute, an industry group that tracks insurance statistics.

NHTSA responded that this is not the type of thing the agency can issue a recall for.

“This specific case involves intentional criminal conduct under the control of law enforcement authorities,” the auto safety agency said in a statement. “However, since last year, NHTSA has repeatedly met with Hyundai and Kia to discuss the reasons contributing to the theft vulnerability, review the scope of different software and hardware in the affected models, and receive regular updates on the companies’ action plans.”

These models became the subject of a viral social media trend where thieves filmed themselves and others stealing Hyundai and Kia vehicles and taking them for a drive. In some parts of the country, the problem became so bad that some insurance companies refused to write new policies on these Hyundai and Kia models in places where thefts had become extremely common.

The models in question do not have electronic immobilizers, which rely on a computer chip in the car and another in the key communicating to confirm that the key belongs to that vehicle. Without the correct key, an immobilizer should do just that – stop the car from moving.

“Hyundai and Kia announced that they will initiate voluntary service campaigns to provide software updates for certain vehicles with this vulnerability in the ignition system. Unfortunately, however, this is an insufficient response to the problem and does not adequately address the security issues facing car owners. The public,” it said the letter to NHSTA.

In a statement Friday, Hyundai said it is “committed to ensuring the quality and integrity of our products.”

“A subset of Hyundai vehicles on the road in the United States today — primarily ‘base trim’ or entry-level models — are not equipped with push-button ignitions and immobilizing anti-theft devices,” Hyundai said. “It is important to clarify that an immobilizer is an anti-theft device and these vehicles are fully compliant with federal anti-theft requirements. The thieves discovered a specific method to bypass the vehicles’ security features and then documented and promoted their exploits on TikTok and other social media channels.”

The automaker went on to say it has taken “extensive measures” to help customers. This action includes partial standardization of immobilizers on all vehicles starting in November 2021 and rolling out a software upgrade to “prevent the method of theft involved, two months ahead of schedule.”

Kia did not immediately respond to CNN’s request for comment.

The two South Korean automakers have released a software update to fix the problem, the automakers have said. Hyundai and Kia operate as separate companies in the United States, but Hyundai Motor Group owns a large stake in Kia, and various Hyundai and Kia models share much of their engineering.

The patch will be installed for free on models that need it, with software that requires a key in the ignition to turn on the vehicle. The software will also block the car from starting after the doors have been locked using the remote key. The vehicle must be unlocked before it can be started.

The software also extends the length of the alarm sound from 30 seconds to a full minute. Hyundai dealers will also affix window stickers stating that the vehicle has anti-theft software installed.

“The bottom line is that Kia’s and Hyundai’s failure to install standard safety features on many of their vehicles has put vehicle owners and the public at risk,” Attorney General Bonta said. “We are now asking the federal government to require these companies to correct their mistake through a nationwide recall and help us in our continued efforts to protect the public from these unsafe vehicles.”

Recalls are ordered by NHTSA or, much more commonly, by automakers to correct safety-related defects. The attorney general’s letter alleges that the ease of theft of these Hyundai and Kia vehicles poses a safety risk and the vehicles do not meet federal theft prevention standards.

“Furthermore, thieves have driven these vehicles recklessly, speeding and performing wild stunts, causing numerous crashes, at least eight deaths and significant injuries,” the letter states.

CNN’s Aaron Silverman contributed to this report

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