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Byers' Beat: How a 1990s car theft problem has come back to haunt the St. Louis area

As the Hyundai and Kia theft explosion continues, one St. Louis police major says it's deja vu.

ST. LOUIS — St. Louis police Maj. Janice Bockstruck said the Hyundai/Kia theft crisis is giving her a bit of déjà vu.

In the 1990s, Bockstruck told me she was around when Chryslers were the hot car for thieves.

Back then, the tool of choice was a screwdriver that could double as a key and start the cars.

Nowadays, thieves are using USB cords to start the ignitions once they rip the columns off.

“Wow I'm going to show my age,” Bockstruck said. “Chrysler products had a similar problem, I want to say in the 90s, and in the early 2000s."

“So yes, it's like history's repeating itself, and here we are with Hyundais and Kias and I think most people felt that the problem was solved, because they have alarms, which a lot of those Chrysler products didn't have alarms and immobilizer technology. Immobilizing technology keeps the engine from starting without reading the key fob or smart key,” she added.

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Bockstruck was right, people thought the problem was solved.

The Chrysler theft epidemic led the National Highway and Transportation Safety Administration to dig into the issue.

Ultimately, it came up with the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards.

One of them states:

“Each vehicle must have a starting system which, whenever the key is removed from the starting system prevents: (a) The normal activation of the vehicle's engine or motor; and (b) Either steering, or forward self-mobility, of the vehicle, or both.”

That’s what the whole issue is going to come down to in court.

Is that standard a requirement?

Or a recommendation?

Hyundai and Kia attorneys believe it is a recommendation, according to court filings in which they responded to a class action lawsuit filed in Milwaukee.

It’s the first of multiple class action lawsuits that have been filed across the country against the automakers, accusing them of a defective ignition system.

Attorneys for Hyundai and Kia owners of course say the automakers failed to install the property anti-theft technology as required by the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety standards.

RELATED: St. Louis threatens to sue Hyundai and Kia over theft epidemic

As for the car alarm systems, the back windows on some Hyundais and Kias are not connected to the car’s security system, which means thieves can break the windows without tripping the alarms.

“That is the key to the problem in this, even though they've upgraded many of the other features of the vehicle, whereas Chryslers at the time didn't have car alarms and didn't have other things, Kia and Hyundai had put them in there, but without the immobilizing technology, it can still be overwritten and stolen,” Bockstruck said.

The issue is only getting worse for Bockstruck and the entire police force.

So far this year, St. Louis police have received 4,117 reports of car thefts.

In all of 2021, there were 4,132 incidents.

And, there’s a lot of year left.

Bockstruck said if it weren’t for the out-of-control Hyundai and Kia thefts, the city’s number of stolen vehicles would actually be down.

That’s because 1,008 Hyundais and 964 Kias have been stolen this year. That’s compared to 194 of them through August 2021.

And that’s a 1000% increase.

By August of 2021, the city saw a total of 2,565 car thefts reported.

That means the city is 60% ahead of where it was at the same time last year in vehicle thefts.

RELATED: Class action lawsuits piling up against Hyundai and Kia following surge in thefts

I continue to rely on numbers from the City of St. Louis to illustrate how big the problem is mainly because it is the largest police department in our area – and a one-stop-shop for statistics.

But the problem is everywhere.

In St. Louis County, however, I would have to check with about 50 municipal police departments in addition to the county police to get an idea of how bad the problem is in the suburban areas. In St. Charles County, there are also multiple jurisdictions, and the same is true in Illinois counties.

Anecdotally, though, I can tell you from conversations with sources from those areas along with the viewer responses we have received to our coverage of this issue, it is everywhere.

And Bockstruck thought we had already been there and done that.

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