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
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.
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.