Kia, Hyundai are easy targets for thieves, insurance data confirms

New York
CNN business

Stealing older model Hyundai and Kia cars and SUVs became a scary social media trend. Now, data from the Highway Loss Data Institute, which collects information on insurance claims, confirms that these South Korean models are stolen far more than others.

In fact, 2015-2019 Hyundai and Kia models are twice as likely to be stolen as other vehicles of a similar age. The reason is many these vehicles do not include basic technology to prevent car theft in the year most other vehicles, even in those years, according to HLDI.

These models do not have an electronic immobilizer, which relies on a chip in the car’s computer and communicates with the key to confirm that the key is genuine and actually belongs to the vehicle. Without the right key, the immobilizer should do just that: stop the car from moving.

Immobilizers were standard equipment on 96% of vehicles sold for 2015-2019, according to HLDI, but only on 26% of Hyundais and Kias. Vehicles with push-button start systems, rather than relying on metal keys that must be inserted and turned on, have immobilizers, but not all keyless entry models have them.

Hyundai and Kia operate as separate companies in the United States, but Hyundai Motor Group has a significant stake in Kia, and various Hyundai and Kia models share much of their engineering.

The trend of car theft spread widely on social media last year, according to HLDI. In Wisconsin, where it first became popular, theft claims for Hyundais and Kias rose more than 30 times in 2019 dollars.

Some videos posted on TikTok showed allegedly stolen Hyundai and Kia vehicles driving recklessly and even crashing. “TikTok does not condone this behavior that violates our policies and will be removed if found on our platform,” a TikTok spokesperson said recently.

The theft method, which involves serious damage to the ignition system, indicates that these cars are being stolen for fun rather than for resale, HLDI said.

“When you forcefully break the ignition, you’re doing so much damage that it’s not easy to re-VIN and resell the vehicle on the open market,” said Darrell Russell, a former auto theft investigator who is now director of operations. National Insurance Crime Bureau, said in a statement. Re-VINing a vehicle means changing or replacing its Vehicle Identification Number, a 17-letter and numeric identification code, to make the vehicle more difficult to trace.

HLDI’s theft frequency estimates are based on the number of a particular model on the road and the frequency of vehicle theft claims. Some vehicles are often stolen because they have been sold in large numbers, so there are many on the roads to steal.

In the case of these Hyundai and Kia models, however, the theft rates are far out of proportion to their numbers on the road.

Vehicles produced after Nov. 1, 2021 and equipped with push-button start cannot be stolen this way, Hyundai spokesman Ira Gabriel said. Electronic immobilizers became standard on all Hyundai vehicles, including keyless ignitions, after that date.

Likewise, for those with older vehicles that do not have an immobilizer, Hyundai has identified a kit that can be installed to prevent this type of theft. Starting October 1, the safety kit will be available for purchase and installation at Hyundai dealerships and authorized installers, the automaker said in a statement.

Kia notes that most Kia vehicles in the United States have push-button start systems that make theft more difficult. The NICB advises owners who are concerned that their vehicle may be a target for theft to take the simple steps of always locking the doors and parking in well-lit areas. In addition, owners can also use anti-theft devices such as additional alarm systems, steering wheel and pedal locks and switches.

Among the newer vehicles, the Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat, a large sedan with a supercharged V8 capable of producing more than 700 horsepower, was the most popular among thieves based on the number on the road, according to HLDI. Dodge vehicles are manufactured by global car company Stellanits.

“All Stellantis vehicles meet or exceed applicable federal safety and security standards. We use industry-standard technology, including immobilizer capability, across our North American vehicle lineup,” a spokesperson said in an email. “However, we urge all motorists to protect their vehicles in need of attention.”

CNN’s Brian Fung contributed to this story.