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Kia and Hyundai cars across America are being stolen in seconds

It can take as little as under a minute to steal some Hyundai and Kia models, and it’s happening all over the country.

Why it’s important: The widespread problem is attributed to design flaws in the cars, forcing owners to resort – for now – to an old-fashioned steering wheel lock if they want to keep their vehicles safe.

  • Hyundai is telling customers that if they want a specialized safety kit to protect their vehicle, they will have to pay for it.
  • The device, an “immobilizer and siren” that “measures the method of entry thieves use,” will be available from Oct. 1 for Hyundai vehicles at an undisclosed price, Hyundai said in a statement.
  • Kia says it does not currently offer a safety kit.

How it works: Thieves smash a window and remove part of the steering column cover, exposing the ignition. They disconnect the ignition cylinder and start the vehicle with a flat screwdriver or USB plug.

  • They̵[ads1]7;re “just the perfect size to put in the opening,” Sam Hussein, president of Metrotech Automotive Group auto repair in Dearborn, Mich., tells Axios.
  • The method works on 2011-2021 Kias and 2016-2021 Hyundais that use a steel key, not a fob and push button start. They target cars that lack immobilizers — devices that don’t allow the car to start without the correct smart key present, according to the automakers.
  • The damage can cost between 2,000 and 3,000 dollars, estimates Hussein. And it may take some time to get the car back, he says, as some parts are on back order due to increased demand.

The intrigue: Officials are linking some of the thefts to a trend shown in a viral YouTube video in Milwaukee interviewing members of the so-called “Kia Boys.” They demonstrate how they allegedly steal the cars so quickly.

Status: Some areas say Kias and Hyundais are disappearing in greater numbers this summer, including the Midwest, where a Kia spokesperson tells Axios the problem is most prominent.

  • Detroit had 111 Kias stolen in July and 22 in the first nine days of August, according to the police department. That is up from 23 in June and 11 or fewer in all previous months in 2022.
  • Charlotte, NC, police report 156 Kia and Hyundai thefts since June 20, a 346% increase from 35 incidents in the same time frame last year.
  • According to the NICB’s 2021 Hot Wheels Report, seven of the 10 most stolen vehicles in Wisconsin were Kias or Hyundais. But none of those vehicles made the top 10 in the state in the 2020 report.

Meanwhile, the automakers are being sued across the country, including a two-plaintiff class action in Iowa, a class action in Wisconsin and two lawsuits centering Ohio theft victims, according to court records and law firms.

  • Car owners claim they have not uncovered design flaws that make the cars easy to steal. Now, despite admitting the problem, the companies “still refuse to fix them” or “compensate consumers,” the Iowa suit says.

  • “Offering [a security kit] and then charging them to install it, is not acceptable,” Jeffrey Goldenberg, an attorney in a five-plaintiff case of mostly Ohio residents filed earlier this month, told Axios.

What they say: Hyundai Motor Co., the parent company of both the Hyundai and Kia brands, is aware that its cars “have been targeted in a coordinated effort on social media,” according to a statement provided to Axios.

  • Hyundai added that all the vehicles “meet or exceed Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards.” Cars produced now all have immobilizers which make them more difficult to steal.

Worth nothing: The “Kia Boys” influence is far from ubiquitous. Officials in Houston, Austin, Salt Lake City and Richmond, Va., tell Axios reporters they are not seeing this trend.

Zoom in: Richard Eldredge reported his 2019 Kia Soul stolen from the parking lot of his Midtown Atlanta apartment building on July 7, he tells Axios. The car was discovered the next day, damaged. He is now waiting for parts because of the logjam in the supply chain.

  • “Who on earth would have thought that a dad ride like a Kia Soul would be targeted by teenagers?” said the Atlanta journalist and senior editor at VOX ATL.
  • “It is [because it’s] a trend in social media, and it’s easy to do. Lamborghini is a bit tougher to tear off.”

Axios Local’s Everett Cook edited this story and Kim Bojórquez, Joe Guillen, Jay Jordan, Joann Muller, Karri Peifer, Asher Price, Katie Peralta Soloff and Thomas Wheatley contributed.

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