ORANGE COUNTY, California — Lawyers for Hyundai and Kia drivers are telling the automakers to do better when it comes to curbing a nationwide epidemic of thefts involving some makes and models of their vehicles.
They’re not happy with Hyundai and Kia’s promise of software upgrades announced this week that could help make an estimated 7 to 8 million of their cars harder to steal.
Thieves shared how easy it is to steal certain makes and models of the cars on social media because they were not built with engine immobilizer, a technology that comes standard on almost every other vehicle on the road.
Nationwide, drivers have filed class action lawsuits against the automakers, including drivers in Missouri and Illinois, that were consolidated under the leadership of the MLG Law Firm in Orange County, Calif. That’s where Hyundai and Kia are based.
“This fix is too little too late,” Matthew Van Fleet, an attorney with the firm, said. “Up to this point, Kia and Hyundai have really taken no responsibility for this.
“For the first time, we're seeing a slight hedge that they are acknowledging that indeed there is a problem. Now it's unfortunate that it required a massive amount of lawsuits to make them sort of come to the table, but they still haven't come to the table far enough. They need to recall these vehicles. That's the solution,” he said.
Hyundai declined the I-Team's request for an on-camera interview, but sent a statement:
"These vehicles meet or exceed all Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards and these thefts are not related to a vehicle part defect. While a service campaign, we are managing to maximize completion rates among affected customers given the increasing nature of thefts targeting Hyundai vehicles without push-button ignitions and immobilizing anti-theft devices in the U.S. Hyundai is notifying customers about the anti-theft service campaign through multiple points of contact (e.g., mail, email, outbound phone contact and a dedicated website) with instructions to bring their vehicle to the nearest Hyundai dealership to have the free software installed. We’ve put more information at www.hyundaiantitheft.com, where customers can input their vehicle’s Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) to find out when it is eligible for the software upgrade."
Kia sent a statement noting its vehicles also meet federal safety standards, and insisted their vehicles do not have a defect that would warrant a recall.
"Kia continues to roll out a free, enhanced security software upgrade to restrict the unauthorized operation of vehicle ignition systems and are providing steering wheel locks for impacted owners at no cost through local law enforcement agencies to combat car theft and the role social media has played in encouraging it," according to the statement.
In an interview with the I-Team earlier this week, Kia spokesman James Bell said no automaker is immune from thieves.
“No car can be made theft-proof. Any vehicle from any brand in any city is exposed to theft," Bell said. "Any thief could break the window and make an attempt. So, we don't feel unique in this situation.”
But Bell acknowledged thefts of Kias have exploded.
In St. Louis alone, thousands were stolen in 2022 and are not showing signs of slowing, according to the St. Louis Police Department.
“We're very aware, that's why we've built a solution that is very robust that will address the problem,” Bell said.
Van Fleet said the automakers could, and should, go further, and so should the federal government.
“Virtually every other country in the world has mandates that engine immobilizers are used in the manufacture of automobiles, and we certainly feel that it's appropriate to have that mandate here in the United States,” Van Fleet said.
He added the automakers should recall the vehicles. That would require the automakers to work with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which could hold them accountable by measuring whether the fixes are effective and that every driver gets notified, he said.
The automakers argue, however, that their vehicles are not defective, and put the blame on criminals.
“These victims of these thefts are facing thousands and thousands of dollars in repair bills, and this fix does nothing to redress those damages,” Van Fleet said. “The value of the cars has plummeted and this fix ... if it works ... is still not going to unring that bell.”
Insurance companies, including Progressive, have announced in recent weeks they won’t be insuring vehicles that are not equipped with immobilizers.
“Insurance companies are certainly going to wait and see if this is in fact an adequate fix, and it's going to take some amount of time before these insurance companies have comfort,” Van Fleet. “So, these cars may not be insurable for years to come.”
Bell said Kia was working on a fix for the better part of the last year, so the mounting litigation and insurance news didn’t prompt the automaker to roll out the free software upgrade.
“The engineering, the testing, the verification, these things take time,” he said.
The fix includes putting 1-and-a-half inch by 2-inch stickers on windows to warn thieves that the cars have the immobilizing technology.
“We've been working very, very closely with police, and they say that it is really a time game, that if a thief sees anything that's going to possibly delay them, they want to be in and out as fast as possible, so if they see anything that it gives them a moment of pause or concern, they're going to find something else,” Bell said.
Van Fleet said his clients think thieves will still break windows and steering columns on Hyundais and Kias regardless of the stickers, just to see if they can be stolen.
“Even if the fix works, there's going to be a lot of damage done to these automobiles,” he said. “Stickers are just not a solution.”
For more information on the security upgrades, click here.
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