Cities Sue Hyundai, Kia After Wave of Car Thefts

A slew of cities have sued Kia Corp. and Hyundai Motor Co., blaming the automakers for the uptick in joyriders stealing cars, causing property damage, and draining police resources.

Source: WSJ | Published on April 13, 2023

Car theft

A slew of cities have sued Kia Corp. and Hyundai Motor Co., blaming the automakers for the uptick in joyriders stealing cars, causing property damage, and draining police resources.

To save money, automakers allegedly did not install anti-theft technology in Cleveland, Seattle, St. Louis, and at least five other cities. According to officials, the decision made the cars easier to steal and the cities less safe. The lawsuits do not specify how much Kia and Hyundai should pay in damages.

The vehicles lack immobilizers, which prevent the car from starting if the driver does not have the correct key. Thefts have primarily targeted vehicles with steel keys and turn-to-start ignition systems.

“The security system for these cars is so substandard that it can be exploited by a middle-schooler,” according to a lawsuit filed in February by Columbus, Ohio.

The lawsuits, according to Kia, are without merit. Hyundai stated that its vehicles meet federal safety standards and that it “is committed to the quality and integrity of our products.” Hyundai, headquartered in Seoul, owns roughly one-third of Kia.

Officials from the cities say the two car companies haven’t done enough to address the issue since the thefts began, which were sparked by social-media videos demonstrating how to steal the vehicles with a screwdriver and a USB charger. Thieves are frequently teenagers or even younger, according to officials. Social media platforms, such as TikTok and YouTube, have stated that such videos violate their policies and are removed.

According to the car companies and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the problem affects approximately 4.5 million Kias built between 2011 and 2021 and approximately 3.8 million Hyundais built between 2016 and 2021.

State Farm has ceased accepting new customer applications for certain Kia and Hyundai vehicles, citing cost increases. People who leased or purchased Kias and Hyundais have sued the automakers, claiming the vehicles should not have been sold without the security feature. Kia and Hyundai have stated that they will continue to provide free steering wheel locks and software updates.

Last year, both companies sent steering wheel locks to police departments for distribution to Kia and Hyundai drivers. In February, the companies began distributing a software fix that must be installed at a dealership. Some models are not yet eligible for the update, and others cannot be installed at all.

Attorneys general from nearly two dozen states wrote to both automakers last month, urging them to provide a faster fix and more steering wheel locks to those who can’t get the software soon.

“It is well past time that you acknowledge your companies’ role and take swift and comprehensive action to remedy it,” the letter stated.

Nancy Laird’s silver 2018 Hyundai Sonata was stolen three weeks before her software update appointment. The 75-year-old social worker claimed her car was stolen from an auto-repair shop where she had parked it overnight for another reason last month. According to Ms. Laird, an auto-repair shop worker told her that all that was left behind was broken glass.

Police discovered her Hyundai, but she claimed it was undriveable. The front grill and bumper had been removed, the ignition had been turned off, and both air bags had been deployed. According to police, the thief crashed her car into another vehicle before hitting a stone wall.

“They tore it to hell and back,” said Cincinnati resident Ms. Laird. In March, the city filed a lawsuit against Kia and Hyundai.

According to the NHTSA, there have been at least eight deaths and 14 crashes related to the thefts as of February.
Mara Elliott, a city attorney in San Diego, said she filed a lawsuit against Kia and Hyundai last month because she believes the companies aren’t taking the issues seriously.

“Sometimes we have to litigate in order to get businesses to do the right thing,” Ms. Elliott explained. “We need our officers to be able to focus on day-to-day crime, not crime that is created because a car manufacturer wants to cut costs.”