One in five vehicle thefts this year have been a Kia or Hyundai, police said, and officials believe it is in part due to the lack of an “immobilizer,” an anti-theft device that’s absent from key-started Kias and Hyundais manufactured between 2011 and 2021.
With the immobilizer’s absence, the cars can be stolen with only a USB cable and a screwdriver.
On Wednesday, Orange County attorney Jonathan Michaels filed a class-action lawsuit against Kia America and Hyundai Motor America. The two companies operate independently, but Kia’s parent company is Hyundai.
The lawsuit claims the decision by both companies to rely on older technology led to an increase in thefts and an ensuing loss of value on the resale market.
“It’s just like one of the old-fashioned keys from the 1960s, just an actual key. They’re the only manufacturer that we know of that makes a car that doesn’t have an engine immobilizer,” Michaels said.
Michaels estimated that there are 10 million vehicles that lack an immobilizer, and each vehicle would cost about $500 to fix.
“That’s about a $5 billion recall,” he said.
Kia and Hyundai declined to comment on pending litigation, though they said they’re working with police on the issue.
The trend of Kia and Hyundai car thefts has been felt around the country.
Earlier this year, Alissa Smart of Indiana told NewsNation affiliate WXIN she believes the TikTok challenge is to blame for an attempted theft of her Kia.
In Norfolk, Virginia, police have observed a 35% increase in Kia and Hyundai thefts in the first half of July alone, WAVY reported. And police in other municipalities, like Beloit, Wisconsin, and Kentwood, Michigan, are urging Kia and Hyundai owners to take extra precautions.
Thieves have been exploiting the immobilizer flaw, and some are posting their illegal antics online, Sgt. Eric Brunner of the Kent County Sheriff’s Department in Michigan told WOOD. Rick Ricart, of Ricart Automotive in Ohio, told WCMH that no less than 30 Kia and Hyundai cars had been towed to his shop for service during one week in June, all with damage to the steering columns.
Smart, the break-in victim in Indiana, also told WXIN she doesn’t think TikTok should allow the type of content that may possibly result in further break-ins.
“This trend absolutely makes me feel disgusted,” she said. “It’s really beyond me that people think it’s OK to post criminal acts, let alone participate in them after seeing them online.”