Hyundai Has A Fix For Its Easily-Stolen Cars, But You Have To Pay For It: Report

Thefttop

One of the biggest, perhaps weirdest bit of news this year is that some people can’t stop stealing Hyundai and Kia vehicles. Thieves have discovered that a number of Hyundais and Kias could be stolen in a minute or less, sometimes using nothing more than brute force and a USB cable. According to a new report, Hyundai now has a fix that will hopefully stop or at least slow down these thefts. But there’s a catch, and it’s that you have to pay for it.

Back in 2021, news stations and police in Milwaukee, Wisconsin reported on a strange, yet alarming issue. That year, some 10,479 vehicles were stolen in the city. That number is up from 2020’s statistic of 4,500 thefts. Why did the number of stolen vehicles double in just a year? Thieves, some as young as teenagers, figured out that certain Hyundai and Kia models could be stolen rather quickly. As a result, two-thirds of the vehicles stolen in the Milwaukee in 2021 were Kias and Hyundais.

The alleged thieves of these vehicles have been posting videos of their actions (and even tutorials) all over social media from YouTube to TikTok. These thieves often call themselves the Kia Boyz, and it’s been horrifying to be able to watch car theft get turned into a social media sensation. Unfortunately, word has spread outside of Milwaukee, and thefts have seen a sharp rise all over the country from Grand Rapids, Michigan to Chicago, Illinois, and all of the way to Los Angeles, California. Recent reports out of Milwaukee show a slight decline in thefts in 2022, but an average of six Hyundai and Kia vehicles are still stolen every day in the city.

More Than Just Stolen Cars

Hyundai Santa Fe 2013 1600 01
Hyundai

The thefts are a major headache for everyone involved. Hyundai and Kia owners have gotten cars back that have been ransacked, crashed, or destroyed. These people are sometimes left with repair bills in the thousands of dollars, if they even get back a car that’s working in the first place. Parents are shocked when they find that their teens are caught up in stealing cars. These thefts are a nightmare that have spawned 15 lawsuits against the automakers in 14 states.

The City of St. Louis demanded that the automakers install anti-theft devices, or face a lawsuit from the city. Kia’s attorney reportedly declined, suggesting that the problem isn’t car security, but a new kind of thief. Those suits not only seek monetary damages, but a recall of affected cars. Some people can’t even get their cars insured by a major insurance provider anymore. And perhaps the worst, people are getting killed in crashes involving these stolen vehicles.

That’s to say that it’s important to try to slow this down.

We’ve written about how the thieves are doing it. For a recap, the process works like this: Thieves target a Hyundai or Kia vehicle built in the past decade with a keyed ignition. Thieves get into a targeted vehicle by opening an unlocked door, or if locked, breaking a window, which doesn’t trigger the vehicle’s alarm system. The thief then breaks apart the vehicle’s plastic steering column shroud, pulls out the ignition cylinder, then shoves in a USB cable.

That USB cable isn’t doing anything special; it’s just there to grip onto what’s left of the ignition. The thief then twists the ignition and starts the car. Technically, it could be done with any sort of tool, but USB cables are cheap (or free, if one is already in the car) and everywhere. In my observation of Kia Boyz videos, it seems that the whole process could be done in less than a minute, maybe even less than 30 seconds. We won’t show the process of stealing one of these vehicles. But our Matt Hardigree has been able to confirm that you could steal one of these in under 60 seconds.

Solutions

Kia

At least some of the vehicles being targeted lack immobilizer systems. Hyundai and Kia have acknowledged this, and say that all 2022 model year vehicles have immobilizer systems. That said, some 2022s have reportedly been stolen, as well.

In an effort to slow down or stop thefts, local authorities and the automakers are offering solutions to owners. Early on, police in Milwaukee offered free steering wheel locks to Hyundai and Kia owners. That’s still the case, but you can now also get those locks for free from Hyundai and Kia. However, I should note that this merely slows down a thief. A number of Kia Boyz videos show a defeated steering wheel lock on the floor of an allegedly stolen vehicle.

More solutions include aftermarket immobilizers and cut-off switches. Earlier this year, I spoke with a St. Louis-based tow truck operator that recovers stolen Hyundai and Kia vehicles. His recommendation was a low budget one: disconnect the battery. David recommended a cheap disconnect switch for that. Most of these could be defeated given enough time. But hopefully, it takes enough time that the thief moves on to a different car.

Now, thanks to a report from Automotive News, we now know that Hyundai is introducing another trick to hamper thieves. Available right now is a Compustar anti-theft security kit.

That kit contains a device that is an alarm and a kill switch. According to an installer of the system, if someone tries to break into a vehicle with the kit installed, the vehicle’s alarm will sound. And if the alarm is ignored, the system should prevent the car from starting without a key. According to Car and Driver, cars equipped with this system will have a glass-break sensor, which will trigger the car’s alarm when glass is broken. Videos show windows to be a common point of entry.

Hyundai plans on further securing some of the targeted cars with a software update, though it’s unclear what that update will do. Also from Automotive News is a clearer picture of what cars thieves are targeting:

The list of affected Hyundai models includes certain 2016-21 model year Accent, Elantra, Elantra GT, Sonata, Veloster, Venue, Kona, Tucson, Santa Fe, Santa Fe Sport, Santa Fe XL and Palisade vehicles that use a steel key and do not have an engine immobilizer.

Vehicles with push-button start are not affected. Hyundai says that customers can reach out to local dealers if they are not sure whether their vehicle lacks an immobilizer.

Certain 2011-21 Kia vehicles without engine immobilizers also have been part of the social media-driven crime wave.

This sounds good. In theory, this system should stop at least thwart some thieves from taking a Hyundai. But there is a weird caveat to it, and it’s that you have to pay for it. The kit is available for $170 from any Hyundai dealership or from Compustar. You then have to pay for the 2.5-hour installation of the kit, which reportedly can run you between an additional $200 to $300 with some quotes as high as $500. And for another downside: these kits are only for Hyundais. As of now, there isn’t an equivalent kit for Kia owners.

As TMJ4 Milwaukee reports, some Hyundai owners are upset that they have to pay to fix the alleged vulnerability in their vehicles. That’s understandable, and I’ve reached out to Hyundai with questions about the system and its cost.

Hyundai owners who want to buy the kit can get one right now from any dealership. However, they can also get one by contacting Hyundai’s Consumer Assistance line at 800–633–5151.

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36 Responses

  1. I wonder if Hyundai is taking the Pinto Theory to heart? Fix all the cars that need fixing or gamble on how much the customers might win in a law suit. Multiply by 18,000….carry the one…..move a decimal point. Phooey. Give them a steering wheel lock and pray that no one knows what a hacksaw is.

      1. I’ll be dipped. I was wrong and I’m glad I was wrong. Always (wrongfully) hated Ford for that. In my defense it’s been repeated by many reputable news sources as fact so who was I to argue? I appreciate the info. But if you tell me a hacksaw can’t cut through a steering wheel I’m going to scream.

    1. Ya wanna know the worst part….
      Please excuse me for being REALLY PEDANTIC….

      They offered people who had either their car stolen one of those anti-theft devices. The ones with the cold rolled steel dipped in chrome then red plastic wrapped. But those units are a shitty example of security. Ya cant use that for ya steering wheel — damn thing is rubber.

      I had YEARS AGO.. the one where it attaches to the brake pedal. Cant press the pedal, cant move the car. But I digress.. this is the U.S. People find the easy way out. I wish stick shifts were mandatory, or at least wire in a hidden switch to the battery to kill it.

      I think this whole stolen kia / hyun thing is total bullshit.

  2. Alright…
    This is the type of stuff that really aggravates the hell outta me.

    When I checked out a the lowest spec Ferd Ranger or Maverick… it was as bare bones as possible, but it tacked on 5g in electronics.. mandatory. SO, if the 5g wasnt there it be a decent truck. But the electronics are more valued than the “Truck” stuff is.

    MEANING:
    If the vehicle is 35-40g and it WAS 19-27g and now to add this type of stuff in its an extra 500. (I know they dont test for this type of stuff to see if its higher risk for theft..) But it would make ya feel better if the car was priced where it should be.. so people arent buying 45-50g Hyun / Kia stuff with an extra 500bux tacked on…

    Sounds like.. MANDATORY Nickle-n-nime, Nickle-n-dime.

  3. “Kia’s attorney reportedly declined, suggesting that the problem isn’t car security, but a new kind of thief.”

    Uh huh. Are the rates other makes of cars being stolen in a similar way at a similar rate by those same criminals? No?

    Then your argument is bullcrap and the court of public opinion should hammer you for it.

    1. This used to be the standard way to steal a car with a steering lock back in the day. Ignition switches were likely tougher back then so a slide hammer or similar was needed to force the lock out. That reduced with immobilizers becoming more common in the 90s. Crazy this is still possible.

  4. I own a Hyundai and like what they’re doing these days quite a lot but them not paying for this is a really bad look…and I don’t intend this to be taken in a judgmental way or anything, but if you’re driving a barebones Hyundai $500 is probably a lot of money. Unless I’m mistaken, these are mainly the lowest of low spec cars.

    A lot of us here could take a $500 bill to the face no problem, but the vast majority of the US isn’t in that position…and the ones that are probably aren’t buying econoboxes. This needs to be a free fix, point blank…and if they don’t step up and offer it that way it’s another black mark on a manufacturer that’s still tallying them up at an alarming rate.

    Which sucks, because they are pushing the envelope right now in a way very few other companies are. But they really need to get some of these fine print issues under control if they want to take the final step in reputability like the Japanese manufacturers did back in the day.

    1. It’s a bad look for Hyundai/Kia for sure. In my mind, this is a defect in the design that should be subject to a recall for a no-cost-to-the-consumer fix.

      If I were a decision-maker at a big insurance company, I’d look into ways to get this fix into my customers’ cars stat — even if it means the insurance company paying for it. A $500 kit is a small price to pay compared to taking a loss on a stolen or totaled vehicle. Sort of the same way most insurance companies comp a windshield chip repair because it’s way cheaper to fix a chip than it is to replace a whole windshield if left alone.

      Perhaps even a local law enforcement agency might want to get involved similar to the way they used to hand out The Club (do those still exist?) for free. As above, a $500 kit is a small price to pay compared to the resources spent investigating and recovering a stolen car.

    2. Well put.

      I suspect plenty of people out there don’t remember how bad Hyundai’s reputation was in the late 80s/early 90s (it was used to devastating effect by a profanely insulting Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross). It’s worked hard to surmount that and has done well…it should be doing everything possible to not go back there in the public mind.

      And people can be forgiving of stuff on a car that breaks down, but not stuff that causes you to lose said car.

      1. I know someone with a Veloster that drank 1qt of oil every 2,000 miles since new, Hyundai said “that’s well within spec”, and then a few thousand miles after warranty expired its engine ate its bearings and seized.

        She’s definitely not one of those forgiving people 🙂

        1. “a few thousand miles after warranty expired its engine ate its bearings and seized.”

          Was it north of 100000 miles? Because this seems like something that clearly should have been covered by the 10 year/100000 mile powertrain warranty.

          That said, it is infuriating that companies refuse to fix cars that have high oil consumption at low mileage. My brother sold his Subaru because it was using a qt per 1k miles, which basically meant it would never need an oil change because it was burning the entire quantity of oil in the engine during the change interval. Subaru claimed that was “normal”.

    3. Yea this is really shitty on Hyundai’s part. It should be a free fix. Instead they’re fucking over people who might not be able to handle such a charge. I have had 2 Hyundai in a row and I’m really liking what they’re doing but if this is the kind of shit they do to their customers then I doubt I’ll make it 3 in a row.

  5. I wonder if the solution to the problem is as easy as – do away with steel keys? Are we not now at the point where a proximity sensor and a button on the dashboard are actually cheaper than a steel key and a mechanical ignition barrel? It wouldn’t be infallible but it would stop most opportunistic thieves, I bet. It feels like a solved problem.

    Having said that – how crappily made are these ignition barrels if they can be torn apart in under a minute? I remember once legally trying to do this to my old 1990 Corolla when I lost my sole key to the car, and needed to start it. It took me a good half an hour with a power drill and a hammer and chisel to get the bastard ignition barrel out and get access to the bare ignition switch – I’d have been caught if it wasn’t my car!

    My wife’s 2022 Rio came with an immobiliser standard but I’m still a little bit concerned about it.

    1. Steel keys can still have immobilizers in them. I’ve owned GM products dating back to ~2000 that definitely had chips in the keys. The regular steel key for my Miata (’01) also has a chip, requiring that specific key to fire up the engine.

      The technology has been around for a long time to prevent successful brute force attacks on ignition cylinders.

      Transponder keys aren’t as secure as they’re made out to be. Substitute $50 for some electronics and you don’t even need to use any force.

    2. Proximity keys have their own issues. They have some measures that make them more resistant to relay attacks, but that just raises the bar a notch. It’s still quite possible (and I’m half surprised there’s no detailed Rootwyrm rant in response to this already)

  6. Pure Devils advocate “You have to pay the $500 dollars you saved when you bought a car without this anti-theft system”

    At the end of the day this does strike me as a product or cutting costs by removing features perceived to be unwanted, unneeded or niche. For example, 3 years ago if I tried to add $500 to the base price of your Hyundai for the system would you have taken it then or passed? I bet a large number of customers would have preferred to save $500 just as the manufacturer did.

    1. How much you think it is to wire in a hidden switch to kill the battery?

      $500…
      THERES A LOTTA options on a LOTTA cars of shit that no one needs (apple car play bs, leatherette surfaces, 12″ screen, ball massager. Shit on Porsches FIVE HUNDRED BUCKS goes to matching the interior vanes of the TURBOS to your color of choice!) … and for a fraction of that price.. ya get —- OH SHIT.. MY CAR WONT BE STOLEN!

  7. All you calling this a manufacturer’s defect and something that should be done for free are nucking futz.
    That’s like saying the cars are defective because they didn’t come with a V-8.

    They built these cars to a price, people bought them because of that price (and the 100K warranty?) complaining now that they ought to have had this or that feature decades later is just stoo….pid.

    That a small group of gang members are stealing them for criminal activities is NOT the fault of the MFR.

    1. Exactly this.. They aren’t asking you to pay for seat belts that work, or an air bag subscription. Remember what it says on the box: Hyundai.. You bought it because it was cheap, why are they cheap, because the cut out every last item that wasn’t needed, as I said before they’re even keenly aware of how few stiches in the upholstery they can get away with. In terms of “Tylenol” type responses, well that hyperbolic and unnecessary, 1. no one is at any risk to their life due to Hyundai’s product, yes, yes, it wasn’t Tylenols fault either, but we’re talking apples and oranges in terms of not just risk, but commercially as well, the price difference between Tylenol and the competitor was probably pennies, Tylenol could have not just lost business, but gone out of business. 2. Does Hyundai really need to do anything? Will they really lose any business, will they really gain any business?? Sure Tylenol probably came out a head and gained market share over the response, so if Hyundai gives out alarms and immobilizers then they will steal business from… who?? Daihatsu, Daewoo?

    2. Yeah, caveat emptor I guess, but I’m also surprised there is a manufacturer in the past 20+ years who shipped cars without an immobilizer in the ignition to prevent theft like this. Pretty sure my 1994 Oldsmobile had that. Guess you need to read that features list very carefully if you buy from Hyundai/Kia before they remove ABS or something you’d assume is standard.

      1. “Guess you need to read that features list very carefully if you buy from Hyundai/Kia before they remove ABS or something you’d assume is standard.”

        I’ve seen pneumatic tires listed as a “feature” on those lists. I always wondered what the alternative was.

  8. St. Louis is having a major problem with these, too – they’ve been stealing the cars and using them to ram-raid gun stores. Now the ATF has a reward out looking for the gangs who’ve hit six different stores so far and stolen more than 50 guns.

  9. Social media is the only reason this is an issue. There are tons of older cars out their that are far easier to steal than Kias and Hyundais and they are also far more valuable. I had a 200SX that I used to start with a screwdriver because the key broke. I did this with out damaging the steering column or ignition switch. No, I am not going to tell you how I did it, but anyone with a Haynes manual could figure it out pretty easily. There are plenty of other examples too.

    1. What? This is the dumbest possible take on the issue, blaming social media. As if people who steal stuff don’t have any other means of sharing their techniques.

      Also, comparing a car you can buy new on the dealer lot right now to something that hasn’t been in production in over 20 years is a perfect demonstration as to how much Kia/Hyundai are slacking.

      The point is, while it will never be possible to entirely prevent car theft, we’re at the point in history where it should be very difficult. There are several cheap ways to prevent this sort of thing that have been in production since the 2000s and before. This just highlights that H/K, despite all the window dressing, is an economy brand; it’s just that their true colors are showing through at this point.

      Let’s not forget about nearly a decade of failing Theta II engines that they turned their back on. This is what H/K is all about.

      1. Eh. His point is that social media has made it “cool” to steal them. It’s laughable to not include basic security features, but this problem is legitimately being made worse by social media. Similarly to the weaving through traffic people love to post.

  10. For the younger readers and commenters: if you’re not aware of how J & J handled the Tylenol laced with cyanide thing, read up on it. It’s a lesson in how a manufacturer should handle a crisis to maintain and reclaim brand loyalty.

    Kia/Hyundai has missed an incredible opportunity here to make current owners even more loyal and to sway people, (like me, who is pre-disposed to Honda/Acura while I continue to ogle the red Kia Scorpion Stinger in the lot at work) to consider switching their brand loyalty.

    As Paul Hollywood would say “it’s a shame; we expected better from you.”

    1. Unfortunately, it did basically spell the end of traditional gelatin capsules, which, I don’t care what anyone says, were still easier and more comfortable to swallow than the dry caplets that replaced them

    2. I’m with you. While I wouldn’t be buying a Kia with a steel key, the fact they have this widespread issue and are charging people to address it is not a good look. Now, would Honda or Toyota be any better? Maybe not, but they apparently didn’t ship cars without an immobilizer in the ignition.

      I like the Stinger. I like the Sorento/Santa Fe and Tuscon PHEVs. I don’t like that they still seem to punch down to the “cut rate” brand they used to have the reputation for being. Makes the stories about people having issues using that 10 year warranty seem more like “standard” that aberrations.

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