Thieves are key to hack that leaves Hyundai and Kia cars vulnerable

DETROIT (AP) – Some Hyundai and Kia cars and SUVs are missing the anti-theft “key” device, and thieves know it.

An insurance industry group says these cars are stolen at nearly twice the rate of the rest of the auto industry because their keys don’t have computer chips for theft “imaging” systems.

The thefts apparently started in the Milwaukee area two years ago and have spread to many Midwest cities and as far as Colorado and New Mexico after educational videos were posted on social media.

The Highway Loss Data Institute, a unit of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, found that Hyundai and Kias without immobilizers had a vehicle theft claims rate of 2.18 per 1,000 insured vehicle years. The rest of the industry had a combined ratio of 1.21. One year of insured vehicle equals one year of insured vehicle.

The institute, which published its findings on Thursday, compared vehicles between the 2015 and 2019 model years. It has reviewed claims of vehicle theft from 2021.

Switches with a chip, which began to appear in the 1990s, communicate with another chip in the ignition switch. If they match, the engines will run. If they do not match, the thief cannot start the engine.

The institute said the keys in some lower-priced versions of the vehicles from the two South Korean automakers, such as Kia Rio and Sportage and Hyundai Accent, do not have an immobilizer system.

“Our previous work shows that vehicle theft losses fell after immobilizers were introduced,” said Matt Moore, senior vice president of the institute. “Unfortunately, Hyundai and Kia lagged behind other automakers in making them standard equipment.”

The institute said that in the 2015 model year, immobilizers were standard on 96% of other manufacturers’ models. But it was standard on only 26% of Hyundai and Kia models. Automakers have not announced their decision not to add immobilizers to some models.

The videos show the thieves removing the ignition cover of Hyundai and Kia vehicles, then using a screwdriver or USB cable to power them up and drive away.

According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 66% of the 10,476 vehicles stolen in Milwaukee last year were Hyundai or Kias. The number of thefts in the city has slowed so far this year. Milwaukee police said on Thursday that 6,048 vehicles had been taken by Sept. 12, but 58% of them were Hyundai or Kias.

A 17-year-old burglary suspect in a viral video about the Kia thefts was arrested after police used the video and an anonymous tip to find him, the Journal Sentinel reported. She can get up to 22 years in prison.

Hyundai and Kia said the thieves stole some of their vehicles, meeting federal safety standards. “It’s unfortunate that criminals use social media to target vehicles without engine immobilizers in a coordinated effort,” Kia said.

All 2022 Kias received immobilizers at the beginning or during the model year. Hyundai said that all models produced after November 1, 2021 have an immobilizer as standard equipment.

Kia said it is trying to provide steering wheel locks for free to authorities in affected areas to deter thefts. Hyundai says it also provides the locks to police and will begin selling a security kit in October that targets the thieves’ methods.

The institute’s Moore said vulnerable Hyundai and Kias are among the top 20 most popular vehicles for thieves, a distinction normally reserved for high-powered or expensive vehicles or pickup trucks. The Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat had the highest rate of theft claims.

Most vulnerable Hyundais and Kias are usually bought by low-income people. “These are relatively inexpensive vehicles when bought new,” Moore said. Owners of some models may have abandoned comprehensive insurance to save money and had to replace cars on their own, he said.

The National Insurance Crime Bureau says homeowners should close windows, lock doors, and take a key or key fob with them to help prevent theft. They should park in well-lit areas or in a garage. If they need to park outdoors, car owners should consider installing lights with motion sensors.

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