ST. LOUIS — Rich O’Hearn needed to rent a car while his car was in the shop, but he ended up becoming another victim in the Hyundai/Kia theft epidemic sweeping the country.
Enterprise gave him a Hyundai Elantra Wednesday.
He took it downtown to see a Cardinals game Thursday.
“I came back after the game and it was broken into and undrivable,” he said.
Four days after he reported the damage, the car was still sitting on the street in front of some houses not far from the stadium. Unbeknownst to the thieves, it was equipped with anti-theft technology. They didn’t know that until after they broke the window, stripped the ignition, and tried to start it with a USB cord.
That’s how police say thieves who call themselves The Kia Boyz are stealing thousands of certain makes and models of Hyundais and Kias that weren’t equipped with the immobilizing technology – and are teaching others how to do so on social media.
Now, O’Hearn says he’s on the hook for the tow cost, window and ignition repairs.
He rejected the insurance packages Enterprise offered him when he rented the car, “just like most people do,” he said.
His deductible is $1,000, and he’s worried his premium will go up.
“All of these rental companies are aware of this issue,” he said.
But, he wasn’t, until it happened to him.
“I just want these rental car companies to make people aware of this issue because people are coming into town, if they don't know about this issue, which I really didn't, and this happens,” he said. “Then you're out of pocket for an extra expense for insurance rates or deductibles or who knows what else and the inconvenience.”
Enterprise provided the following statement:
“This is not just a car rental issue, it’s a consumer issue. We are supportive of working with local leaders and authorities in promoting efforts that ultimately protect our customers from falling victim to crime and theft. Such incidents not only cause damage to vehicles, but they increase costs over time related to purchasing pricy parts and repair."
Avis, Budget and Hertz rental companies also have not yet responded to requests for comment, so it’s unclear whether any rental car companies are warning consumers about the surge in thefts involving some Kia models built between 2011-2021 and some Hyundai models built in 2015-2021 that don’t have push-button ignitions or immobilizing technology.
Hyundai has since made immobilizers standard on all vehicles produced after November 1, 2021.
All 2022 Kia models and trim levels have immobilizers applied “either at the beginning of the model year as a running change,” according to a statement from Kia.
Hyundai and Kia owners in at least seven states have filed class action lawsuits against the automakers.
In a response to the first lawsuit filed in Milwaukee, attorneys for the automakers argued their products are not defective because they can’t control criminals who chose to steal them and that consumers had the option to buy higher trim levels with immobilizers.
In statements, Hyundai and Kia vowed to work with local police departments seeing spikes in thefts.
So far, St. Louis police have given away 100 free steering wheel locks Hyundai Motor America sent to them.
This year, more than 1,200 Hyundais and Kias have been stolen, according to St. Louis police.
Hyundai Motor America also is making security kits available beginning Oct. 1 at Hyundai dealerships and Compustar authorized installers across the country. Hyundai representatives said they did not have a cost estimate on the kits, but online searches show they range in price from $75 to $150 each.
For those in the car rental market, O’Hearn said he hopes the industry will better protect consumers like him.
“I think they ought to be, at least on these type of cars, warning people that, ‘Hey, this is what we have for a car, there's a high risk that it could be broken into or stolen,’” O’Hearn said.
Where to buy a steering wheel lock
Clubs are available for $15 at the Five Star Senior Center at 2832 Arsenal St, the St. Louis' Citizens Service Bureau or at the Department of Revenue. 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, call 314-622-4800 or visit the city's website.
Non-St. Louis residents can find the devices online or at most auto parts stores.
Have concerns about your vehicle?
Kia’s Consumer Affairs hotline is 1-800-333-4542.
Hyundai customers can call the Hyundai Consumer Assistance Center at 800-633-5151.