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Hyundai and Kia thefts hit insurance and appraisal industry

Expert says some companies are refusing to cover high-theft vehicles, premiums are increasing and appraised values are decreasing.

ST. LOUIS — 1,972.

That’s the latest number of Hyundais and Kias that have been reported stolen in the City of St. Louis so far this year as of Thursday.

It was 1,783 eight days ago.

That means that on average, at least 23 Hyundais and Kias were stolen in the city every day for the past eight days.

Cities across the country are reporting similar unprecedented surges in thefts involving some makes and models of Hyundais and Kias due to an ignition police say is easy for thieves to compromise using a USB cord.

The ripple effects of the theft epidemic are everywhere, including in the insurance and auto appraisal industries.

As the cars continue to get stolen, and often wrecked or ruined, insurance companies are weighing whether to insure them at all and increase premiums for those who own them, according to Roy Bent Jr., a certified auto appraiser and insurance expert based in Houston.

“They have every right to do so,” Bent said. “They have to protect themselves as well as their policyholders.

“You don't want an insurance company to start increasing your premiums because of a set of vehicles that are continuously being stolen, and everybody is under the blanket, and their premiums go up. You do not want that, and neither do they, so they have every right to reject those types of vehicles. It's their prerogative.”

Bent said Hyundai and Kia owners who want to get rid of their vehicles to avoid becoming the victim of a theft or increased insurance premiums should think twice.

“You're going to be in for a loss of market value due to these vehicles constantly being stolen,” Bent said.

Demand for ignition parts and back windows – which thieves break to steal the cars – is also high, and supply is short, so the insurance industry also is having to keep up with rentals and delays for other vehicle owners who have their cars in for repairs, Bent said.

Here is a Q&A the I-Team had with Bent:

Q: What’s a Hyundai or Kia owner to do?

A: You can have a car alarm. There are plenty of car alarms on the market that work. You need something that makes a lot of noise that way your neighbors, or whoever is in the vicinity of your vehicle can hear your alarm. You also need to lock your doors. Some people leave their doors unlocked, and that's an easy way in for the thief to get into your vehicle. Steering wheel locks are old school and old school always works. You put a Club on there, it's going to first, cause that particular thief to just move on. It's too much work having to try to cut that thing off. And if you are successful with cutting it off, by the time you get it cut off, the owner will be looking at you, and you'll be staring at his 12-gauge shotgun.

Q: If a Hyundai or Kia owner gets an insurance appraisal on their vehicle, and it’s not where they think it should be, what can they do?

A: Read your policy. You do not have to accept the insurance company's lowball offer. You can invoke the Appraisal Clause, and hire your own independent appraiser to assist you with determining the fair market value. In most cases, what happens when someone invokes the appraisal clause, the insurance company will hire their own independent appraiser. You're responsible for hiring your own independent appraiser, and the two appraisers will come up with a value on your vehicle. The insurance company’s appraiser may come back with that same lowball offer, and if the two cannot agree upon a value, they would have to elect what is called a third appraiser, or, in legal terms, an umpire or an arbitrator. He or she will review both of the appraiser's reports, and they will have a finding that is binding upon both parties, and, in most cases, if you invoke the appraisal clause, there is a cost that's associated with invoking the appraisal clause, and you would have to pay that to your appraiser.

Q: What is it going to take to get things back to normal for consumers that own these vehicles, and just the insurance and appraisal industry in general?

A: The thefts of these vehicles have to stop. If you can afford a Club, get one. It is a lot cheaper than a car alarm because, with a car alarm, you have to take it to the shop, you have to install it, and then they test it out. But with a Club, you just open it up. You stretch it across the steering wheel, and you lock it, and then you walk away. You can see that there's a big Club on your steering wheel, and that's going to be a big deterrent.

Here are a few of the other ripple effects the I-Team has covered that have come from the theft epidemic.

Car rental companies are still renting Kias and Hyundais despite the high thefts.

Auto parts stores can’t keep steering wheel locks like The Club in stock.

Class action lawsuits against the automakers keep piling up across the country.

St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones threatens to sue automakers over theft epidemic. 

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