Hyundai and Kia thefts soar more than 1,000% since 2020

Jan 4, 2024, 12:19 PM

Brand new Hyundai Santa Fe SUVs are displayed at a Hyundai dealership on April 7, 2017 in Colma, Ca...

Brand new Hyundai Santa Fe SUVs are displayed at a Hyundai dealership on April 7, 2017 in Colma, California.(Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

(Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

(CNN) — Certain Hyundai and Kia models saw a 10-fold increase in thefts in just the past three years, a wildly dramatic increase in the wake of a series of social media posts showing people how to steal the vehicles.

Theft insurance claims for vulnerable Hyundais and Kias increased more than 1000% between the first half of 2020 and the first half of 2023, according to data from the Highway Loss Data Institute, an industry group that tracks insurance statistics.

In the first half of 2020, roughly 1.6 out of every 1,000 insured Hyundais and Kias were reported stolen. That was about the same as for all other makes of cars. By the first half of 2023, though, that figure had risen to 11.2 per 1,000. Meanwhile, the theft rate for all other makes of cars stayed about the same.

During the first half of 2023, Hyundai and Kia theft claims were also more than seven times higher than for cars from other manufacturers, according to the HLDI.

Certain older Hyundai and Kia models made between 2015 to 2019 are particularly vulnerable to car thieves. Less expensive versions of vehicles such as the Hyundai Santa Fe and Tucson and the Kia Forte and Sportage equipped with turn-key ignitions — as opposed to cars that only require a button press to start – are roughly twice as likely to be stolen as other vehicles of a similar age.

Many of these vehicles lack some of the basic auto theft prevention technology, such as electronic immobilizers, included in most other vehicles even in those years, according to the HLDI. Electronic immobilizers rely on a computer chip in the car and another in the key that communicate to confirm that the key is authentic and really belongs to that vehicle.

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. More recent models are less vulnerable to theft.

Some states, such as New York, Washington and Delaware, had marked increases in Hyundai and Kia theft claims during the first half of last year, according to HLDI data. In Maryland, for example, theft claims increased from four per 1,000 insured vehicles in the last half of 2022 to 14 in the first half of 2023.

The method of theft, which involves using the metal tip of a USB cable to start the car, spread through social media, especially TikTok.

Vandalism claims also soared for the afflicted Hyundais and Kias, peaking at three times the rate of other vehicles on the market in the first half of 2023, the HLDI said. The spike was likely the result of failed theft attempts, it added.

Presumably, the rapid increase in thefts is tied to broader awareness of the vulnerability and techniques for exploiting it, said Matt Moore, senior vice president at HLDI. While the theft trend initially spread on social media, traditional media stories about the trend also carry information how vulnerable these vehicles. But media coverage can also serve to let people know there are ways to protect their vehicles.

“I think at this point, like it’s it’s important to help consumers understand, the folks who own these vehicles that have the vulnerability, that there there is a remedy that that is available,” he said.

Earlier this year, Hyundai and Kia agreed to a $200 million settlement with as many as 9 million vehicle owners to settle claims that the automakers didn’t do enough to make the vehicles secure. Along with payments for stolen and damaged vehicles, the settlement also included installation of anti-theft software and the costs of other theft-preventative measures.

The issue has become so prevalent that some auto insurers in certain markets have simply refused to cover these older Hyundai and Kia models, something insurers don’t often do.

Both automakers pointed to the steps they have taken to provide anti-theft equipment and technologies to customers. They have also worked with local police to distribute steering locks to owners of these models.

“Kia continues to take significant steps to support our customers in response to criminals using methods of theft promoted and popularized on social media to steal or attempt to steal certain vehicle models,” Kia spokesman James Bell said as part of a lengthy statement detailing steps the company has taken. He urged eligible customers to install the software upgrade that his Kia rolled out earlier this year.

Hyundai said it has also set up temporary service centers in a number of major cities to install anti-theft software in vehicles.

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Hyundai and Kia thefts soar more than 1,000% since 2020