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Year in Review: Hyundai and Kia thefts in St. Louis region

5 On Your Side's I-Team reported on Hyundai and Kia thefts in the St. Louis region following lawsuits and crime. Here's where things stand.

ST. LOUIS — The St. Louis region, like many other cities, saw an increase in Hyundai and Kia car thefts in 2022. 

Car thieves nationwide exploited a weakness in the ignition system of some vehicles. The weakness allowed thieves to steal Hyundais and Kias with nothing more than a USB cord. 

The problem? Many of the cars don't have immobilizing technology, which requires the engine to read a computer chip inside a key to start.

Police say some Kia models built between 2011-2021 and some Hyundai models built between 2015-2021 are affected. 

Uptick in thefts

Milwaukee, Wis. is just one of many cities seeing the increase in thefts and has a gang of car thieves named themselves 'The Kia Boyz.' Members have posted countless videos on social media showing themselves stealing cars within a matter of seconds. 

The City Council in Milwaukee filed a lawsuit against Hyundai and Kia saying their vulnerable ignition systems are to blame for the city's climbing crime rate. A class action lawsuit from the vehicle owners has also been filed.

Hyundai and Kia since filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit. 

5 On Your Side first reported the uptick in thefts back in June. The St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department said they had seen a "significant increase" in vehicle thefts. At the time, they reported 155 Kia thefts and 142 Hyundai thefts, double last year's total. 

Since then, thousands of each Hyundai and Kia cars have been stolen in St. Louis City, St. Louis County and St. Charles County.

5 On Your Side's I-Team reported on the uptick in thefts in the area in July. Car theft victims were rising and the surge caused a shortage in steering wheel locks. 

The I-Team reported many of the thieves are juveniles, following The Kia Boyz on Tik Tok and stealing the vehicles. 

Hyundai and Kia vowed to make engine immobilizing standard on all new models given the surge in thefts nationwide. 

Class action lawsuits 

Car owners in Wisconsin filed their suit in June 2021. In August 2022, Hyundai and Kia owners in Missouri, Kansas, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky and Texas also filed class action lawsuits. 

Attorneys for the automakers argued the vehicles are not defective.

"Warranties do not cover situations in which a vehicle owner or lessee simply prefers an alternative material or an alternative design, as a different preference is not a defect. The so-called defect at issue here — the possibility of theft — is simply not covered by either Kia or Hyundai’s express warranty," according to the filing. “Plaintiffs pay lip service to the word ‘defect.’ Their complaint, at base, is simply that they would have preferred an alternative security system for their vehicles, given to them for free, without having to purchase it as an optional upgrade.”

It continued: “The fact that plaintiffs have identified alternative security methods hardly shows that Kia and Hyundai’s methods rendered their vehicles defective products any allegations that their vehicles’ security systems failed to live up to their expectations is not sufficient to allege a defect.”

In late August, St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones and the city threatened to file a lawsuit against the automakers if they didn't take action against the epidemic of thefts involving their vehicles. 

“With this letter, the city demands that Kia and Hyundai mitigate the defective conditions providing thieves – including teenagers as young as 13 – the instrumentalities by which they are destroying property, endangering city drivers and themselves, and, in some cases, committing violent felonies,” according to the letter written Aug. 19 by City Counselor Sheena Hamilton. 

In the city's demand letter, Hamilton cited several examples of high-profile crimes the stolen cars have been involved in

In Hyundai's and Kia's responses to the city, the companies refused to recall their vehicles, disagreed with Mayor Tishaura Jones' characterization of their products and said they are taking steps to address the problem. 

"We strongly disagree with your statement that the subset of our vehicles that do not contain immobilizers are 'defective' or that these vehicles are the cause of the thefts, property damage and acts of violence occurring in St. Louis," wrote John Yoon, executive vice-president of the legal division at Kia America, Inc. 

“We must respectfully disagree with your contention that any defect or failure on our part is responsible for these thefts and the wider pattern of criminal activity involving these vehicle thefts,” he wrote.

He continued: “Rather than a vehicle issue, these thefts are unfortunately being caused by criminal acts popularized through social media. Accordingly, there is no basis for a claim of public nuisance against Hyundai.”

Automakers response

Hyundai and Kia have taken steps to try and stop the theft epidemic. 

On Oct. 1, Hyundai made a glass break security kit available. When the I-Team was sent a link to a list of authorized dealerships and installers with the kits, most did not have them available. 

Both companies have sent hundreds of steering wheel locks to police departments across the country, including St. Louis and St. Louis county police. 

The locks, commonly known as The Club, are the best way police say car owners can prevent their cars from being stolen. 

Back in October, St. Louis County police say Kia has sent 500 steering wheel locks, which they’ve made available at precinct stations to anyone who can prove residency in the precinct and ownership of a Hyundai or Kia.

The City of St. Louis is also offering anti-theft devices to residents in the area as well. 

Where it stands 

The St. Louis region continues to see an increase in Hyundai and Kia thefts as the year ends. Clubs and kits are available in many locations throughout the area for owners to purchase to keep their vehicles safe. 

The number of stolen vehicles reached a record high with thousands reported and many more being used in different crimes. 

Owners can reach out to Hyundai and Kia with concerns: 

Kia’s Consumer Affairs hotline is 1-800-333-4542.

Hyundai customers can call the Hyundai Consumer Assistance Center at 800-633-5151.

Keep up-to-date on 5 On Your Side's reporting on Hyundai and Kia thefts here.

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