Cities sue Hyundai, Kia after wave of car thefts
Auto makers haven’t done enough to make the cars harder to steal, cities say.
A wave of cities have sued Kia Corp. and Hyundai Motor Co. blaming the auto companies for the surge of joy riders stealing their cars, damaging property and draining police resources.
Cleveland, Seattle, St. Louis and at least five other cities have alleged the auto makers didn’t install anti-theft technology to cut costs. The decision made the cars easier to steal and their cities less safe, officials said. The lawsuits don’t specify how much the cities want Kia and Hyundai to pay in damages.
The vehicles don’t have immobilizers, which stop the car from starting if the driver doesn’t have the right key. The thefts have focused on cars with steel keys and turn-to-start ignition systems.
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"The security system for these cars is so substandard that it can be exploited by a middle-schooler," said a lawsuit filed in February by Columbus, Ohio.
Kia said the lawsuits are without merit. Hyundai said its vehicles meet federal safety requirements and the company "is committed to the quality and integrity of our products." Hyundai, based in Seoul, owns about a third of Kia.
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Officials from the cities said the two car companies haven’t done enough to fix the problem since thefts took off, sparked by social-media videos explaining how to steal the vehicles using a screwdriver and a USB charger. Thieves are often teens or even younger, officials say. Social-media platforms, including TikTok and YouTube, have said they remove such videos, which violate their policies.
The issue affects about 4.5 million Kias built between 2011 and 2021 and about 3.8 million Hyundais from between 2016 and 2021, according to the car companies and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
State Farm stopped accepting new customer applications for some Kia and Hyundai vehicles, citing a rise in costs. People who have leased or bought Kias and Hyundais have sued the companies, saying the cars shouldn’t have been sold without the security feature. Kia and Hyundai said they’ll continue to offer free steering wheel locks and software upgrades.
Both companies sent steering wheel locks to police departments last year to hand out to Kia and Hyundai drivers. In February, the companies started rolling out a software fix that needs to be installed at a dealership. Some models aren’t yet eligible for the update and certain models can’t have the software installed at all.
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Last month, attorneys general of nearly two dozen states wrote a letter to both auto makers, urging them to offer a faster fix and to make more steering wheel locks available 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 said.
Nancy Laird’s silver 2018 Hyundai Sonata was stolen three weeks before her appointment to get the software update. The 75-year-old social worker said her car was taken from an auto-repair shop, where she had parked it overnight last month for another issue. Ms. Laird said an auto-repair shop worker told her all that was left behind was broken glass.
Police found her Hyundai, but it wasn’t drivable, she said. The front grill and bumper were gone, the car ignition was on the floor and both air bags were deployed. Police told her the thief crashed her car into another vehicle and then hit a stone wall.
"They tore it to hell and back," said Ms. Laird, who lives in Cincinnati. The city filed its lawsuit against Kia and Hyundai in March.
There have been at least eight deaths and 14 crashes related to the thefts as of February, according to NHTSA.
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In San Diego, city attorney Mara Elliott said she filed a lawsuit against Kia and Hyundai last month because she doesn’t believe the companies are taking the issues seriously.
"Sometimes we have to litigate to get businesses to do the right thing," said Ms. Elliott. "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."