ST. LOUIS — St. Louis police have a warning for vehicle owners after seeing an uptick in Kia and Hyundai thefts.
According to a release from the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, there has been a "significant increase" in vehicle thefts. Since the beginning of the year, the department has received reports for 155 Kia thefts and 142 Hyundai thefts. That's more than double last year when 61 Kias and 64 Hyundais were reported stolen.
Police did not provide further information on how Kia and Hyundai theft rates stacked up to other vehicles.
Hyundai owner Kelsey Belt told 5 On Your Side this happened to her and her Kia-owning neighbor just last week.
She said both of their cars were broken into, and it appears thieves tried to steal them but couldn't.
“So I was coming out to my car to drive to work. And it had been storming the night before. And the first thing I saw was my window was open,” Belt said
Belt said it turned out the window wasn’t left open. It was actually smashed open.
“I started doing inventory of, you know, oh, well, my toolbox is still in here. My chargers are still in here,” Belt said.
But then she got to the driver's side and realized someone had actually tried to drive off with her car.
“I looked at my steering wheel, and the plastic that's around where like the ignition is, kind of underneath the steering wheel, had been completely popped down. So someone had to use the tool to separate the plastic around my steering wheel,” Belt said.
Pat Hamill with St. Louis Auto And Truck Repair said some vehicles are lacking one important piece of technology: an immobilizer.
“This is an antenna ring, it picks up the key so when the key is inside the ring it lets this particular car start. So if this is not there, a vehicle will not start,” Hamill said.
Belt said she is lucky because police tell whoever tried to steal her car didn’t have the right tools. But unfortunately, that’s only something thieves can find out on the inside.
“There's no way to know that from the outside looking in. So that's why my car was still there, they ripped my steering wheel apart and then didn't have the tools for this old Hyundai to start. And there's no way on the outside to know that, so my car can continue to be broken in through the whole summer,” Belt said.
She says she’s going to take preventative measures by getting a steering wheel lock or a club, something St. Louis police want all Kia and Hyundai owners to do.
“If it’s installed this way and it’s right there in the windshield, they look, they see the big yellow thing in the windshield and they’re gonna go to something else,” Mechanic and owner of Southwest Auto Parts Joe Barbaglia said.
Barbaglia said vehicle owners can also get a kill switch for even more protection.
The department said it is urging all vehicle owners, regardless of model, to buy and use anti-theft car clubs to secure their vehicles and deter theft. The clubs fit over the steering wheel and lock it in place.
They are available for $15 at the Five Star Senior Center at 2832 Arsenal St. They can also be bought at St. Louis' Citizens Service Bureau or at the Department of Revenue. The Department of Revenue also sells license plate screws for $3.
Residents should call ahead to City Hall to check availability, bring proof of city residency, and pay in cash.
For more information about the clubs, people can call 314-622-4800 or visit the city's website.
The city reminds drivers to always park in well-lit, highly visible areas, lock their doors and roll up their windows, and not to leave personal belongings in the car. Drivers should never leave the keys inside the car or leave cars running and unattended.
5 On Your Side contacted Kia and Hyundai and received the following emailed statements regarding the thefts:
"Kia America is aware of the rise in vehicle thefts of certain trim level vehicles in the St. Louis area. From the 2022 Model Year, all Kia vehicles will have an engine immobilizer fitted as standard. All Kia vehicles for sale in the U.S. meet or exceed Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. Kia customers with questions regarding their Kia vehicle should contact the Consumer Assistance Center directly at 1-800-333-4542 (4KIA)."
"Hyundai Motor America is concerned with the rise in local auto thefts. The safety and well-being of our customers and the community is and will remain our top priority. These vehicles meet or exceed Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards and engine immobilizers are standard equipment on all new Hyundai vehicles. Hyundai customers that have questions can always contact the Hyundai Consumer Assistance Center at 800-633-5151."