Why Are Car Thieves Targeting These Two Brands?

Car theft is on the rise, and social media is fueling the trend. Is your car an easy target?

Hot-wiring a car sounds like something out of a heist movie. Thieves jump in the front seat, fiddle with the steering column and drive away in a trail of dust. In the old days, cars needed a physical key to unlock the ignition cylinder and start the engine, but hot-wiring allowed thieves to bypass the cylinder.

Today’s high-tech key fobs and engine immobilizing devices make hot-wiring a thing of the past. Or do they? It turns out that some late-model Kias and Hyundais were produced without an immobilizer, and thieves are taking advantage across the Midwest.

In Milwaukee, 57 percent of car thefts so far in 2022 have been Kias and Hyundais. Fifty-five percent of St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department stolen vehicle incident reports involve Hyundais and Kias, while St. Louis County saw a tenfold increase in thefts of both brands this year over last year, according to police spokespersons.

Why Are Kia and Hyundai Targets?

When you enter your car with your key fob, a computer chip in the car senses the chip in the fob and starts the car. If you don’t have the fob or try to bypass the car’s security features, the engine won’t turn over. Many Hyundais and Kias lack this immobilization device, according to the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI).

As late as 2015, when 92 percent of cars on the road had anti-theft engine immobilizers, only 26 percent of Hyundais and Kias did. (Hyundai is the parent company of Kia, although they operate independently.)

Without the chip, thieves can simply pop off a cover, break apart the ignition and turn the cylinder, usually with a USB cable end. Call it modern-day hot-wiring, even though no wiring is involved.

Before social media, this design flaw may have boosted local thefts, driven by word of mouth among car thieves. But thanks to — what else? — a TikTok trend called the “Kia Challenge,” Kia and Hyundai thefts skyrocketed compared to other makes and models. The “Kia Boyz” steal the vehicles and rack up views, sometimes with disastrous results.

Police departments have taken notice.

Sergeant Tracy Panus of the St. Louis County P.D. says “yes, absolutely” the social media trend is driving the stolen vehicle numbers. So does Evita Caldwell, public information officer for the St. Louis Metropolitan P.D.

What Model Years are Affected?

Kias and Hyundais with a traditional key instead of a fob are the targets of this trend. This includes Hyundais produced between 2016 and 2021, and Kias between 2011 and 2021, according to Forbes.

The HLDI reports Kia Rios and Sportages and Hyundai Accents recently made their Top 20 list of stolen cars, sharing space with high-value targets like Dodge Challengers and Infiniti Q50s.

Both Kia and Hyundai stress their cars meet or exceed all federal safety standards. Hyundai said in a statement immobilizers are now standard on cars produced after Nov.1, 2021, while Kia added immobilizers for the 2022 model year.

How To Prevent Kia and Hyundai Theft

If you drive a Kia or Hyundai without a key fob, take precautions. Short of buying a new car, here are the solutions available:

The Club

Panus suggest using the anti-theft device the Club, which slides over your car’s steering wheel and prevents a thief from turning the wheel. Caldwell agrees. “We have not seen an instance where a vehicle was stolen with a car club attached to the steering wheel,” she says, “so car clubs have proven to be an effective solution thus far.”

Aftermarket security kit

Hyundai recommends customers install the Compustar remote start and security kit, available at Hyundai dealerships or through Compustar directly. But Hyundai won’t cover the cost. Expect to pay several hundred dollars for this security feature and the installation.

Remove the temptation

While the Kia Boyz target easy-to-steal Hyundais and Kias, there are still things you can do to make car theft more difficult. “Park in a garage if possible, and do not leave keys in vehicles,” says Panus. Many car thefts are simply crimes of opportunity, so keep your vehicle out of sight if possible.

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Ally Childress
Ally Childress is a licensed electrician and freelance writer living in Dallas, Texas.