At the same time big cities are going light on criminals, many of them are choosing to instead make an example out of the manufacturers of stolen property.
At least eight cities have filed suit against Kia and Hyundai, seeking unspecified damages over the manufacturers' production of cars lacking common anti-theft technology. The cities include Seattle, Milwaukee, Cleveland, San Diego and St. Louis. Individuals who bought or leased the cars are also suing the companies.
"Big corporations like Kia and Hyundai must be held accountable for endangering our residents and putting profit over people,” said St Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones.
In a suit filed in February, the city of Columbus, Ohio said, “The security system for these cars is so substandard that it can be exploited by a middle-schooler.” At risk are Kias made from 2011 to 2021, and Hyundais built between 2016 and 2021.
Because millions of Hyundai and Kia vehicles lack a common anti-theft device called an "immobilizer," they can be easily started with a USB cable and a screwdriver. "Immobilizers were standard on 96% of U.S vehicles by 2015 but were standard on only 26% of 2015 model year Hyundai and Kia vehicles," reports the Wall Street Journal.
Thanks to how-to videos circulated on TikTok and other social media platforms, thefts of Hyundai and Kia vehicles positively skyrocketed in 2021.
For example, Milwaukee saw Hyundai and Kia thefts soar from 895 in 2020 to 6,970 in 2021, with other cities also reporting 8- and 10-fold increases.
To look at the risk in another way, about one in every 10 Kias registered in Chicago was stolen in 2022. Insurers have taken note -- and taken action: State Farm and Progressive have each restricted and/or repriced their coverage of affected Kia and Hyundai vehicles. Sales of policies have been limited in certain parts of the country.
Scrambling to address the fiasco, both manufacturers distributed steering wheel locks to police departments last year and encouraged them to give them to Kia and Hyundai owners. Now, they're implementing a software fix that has to be installed by a dealer. The software upgrade isn't available for all models yet -- and for some, it will never come.
Of course, even after the upgrade is installed, your vehicle is still seen as a prime target. To notify criminals that it's been upgraded, Hyundai is giving customers window stickers. Ahead of your upgrade, you can also try bluffing: Enterprising people are selling stickers online.