For more than a year, Hyundai and Kia owners around the United States have watched their cars get stolen. Thieves have found that some of these vehicles are so easy to steal that they could get the job done with just a USB cable. Thousands of these cars continue to disappear from driveways, as stealing them has turned into a social media trend. Things appear to be getting worse, as a major insurance company appears to be declining to cover targeted vehicles.
Back in 2021, owners of thousands of Hyundai and Kia vehicles in Milwaukee, Wisconsin fell victim to a new trend. Thieves–sometimes teenagers following what they saw on social media–figured out that some Hyundai and Kia models are easy to steal. In 2021, Milwaukee residents were the victims of 10,479 vehicle thefts. Just a year before, the number was less than half at 4,500 vehicles stolen. Before the year was even out there was a clear difference in what was getting stolen, too. According to WISN 12 News, more than two-third of the cars stolen were Hyundai and Kia models.
This year, cities all over the United States from Grand Rapids, Michigan to Memphis, Tennessee are all seeing similar trends on their streets. Car thefts are on a sharp rise in those cities and as Carscoops reports, the two brands stick out as popular targets.
What’s Making These Cars So Attractive To Thieves?
As we reported last month, thieves have discovered that Hyundai and Kia vehicles with keyed ignitions can be started with just a USB cable. These people break into the vehicle by smashing a window. Then they pull apart the steering column before defeating the ignition switch and shoving in a USB cable.
Repair shops and police claim that the targeted vehicles don’t have immobilizers, from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
Officials have determined that the models of Kia and Hyundai vehicles being targeted lack engine immobilizers, an electronic security device that makes it more difficult to start a vehicle without a key.
The vehicles being targeted are generally newer model years with keyed ignitions instead of a push-button start.
It’s unclear exactly which models and years don’t have immobilizers. As a reader pointed out last time, at least some Kia and Hyundai vehicles with keyed ignitions do have immobilizers. As a response to these claims, Hyundai and Kia say that as of the 2022 model year, all vehicles from both brands have immobilizers.
Either way, immobilizer or not, it seems based on what I’m seeing online that many of these vehicles can be stolen in less than a minute. And it doesn’t take any real skill to do it. I’m fairly sure that a 5-year-old could pull it off.
Stealing these cars has become a social media trend. Some who claim to steal these vehicles call themselves the Kia Boyz. In social media videos tagged or associated with the Kia Boyz, you can see allegedly stolen Kia/Hyundai vehicles driving recklessly on city streets, being driven into crowds of people, or intentionally leading police into chases. A recent video seems to show an allegedly stolen Hyundai being ditched into Lake Michigan:
This has been horrifying for owners of these vehicles and families of the victims. Some of these people have stood by as their vehicles have been stolen before their eyes. But it still gets worse from there.
Kia And Hyundai Owners Face Insurance Issues
As ABC 7 News Denver reports, owners of some vehicles in Denver, Colorado are reportedly getting a cold shoulder from Progressive Insurance. As the report states, Progressive is declining to offer coverage on some new policies due to the rate some Kia and Hyundai models get stolen. Customers who request a quote are told that based on the vehicle information they provided, Progressive cannot offer a policy at that time.
Progressive has released this statement to ABC 7 News Denver:
“We’re committed to providing affordable insurance solutions for consumers based on the particular level of risk while also ensuring our policies are accurately priced. Due to the theft risk that some Hyundai and Kia vehicles present, in many cases it makes these vehicles difficult to insure, so we have adjusted our acceptance criteria for new business on some of these models. We’ll continue to monitor how this issue plays out, and are hopeful to be able to revisit our decision if the theft risk diminishes and community awareness improves,” the company statement said.
Those who aren’t getting their new policies declined are apparently seeing higher rates. ABC 7 News Denver further explains why this is happening:
Carole Walker with the Rocky Mountain Insurance Association said it’s unfortunate for owners of these vehicles, but insurance companies need to contain risk to keep premium costs low for their other customers.
“They’re also looking at the market that we’re in,” Walker said. “Colorado now tops the list for auto theft. So, your car insurance company is looking at that risk, determining the premium, how much it will cost to repair and replace that vehicle, but also how likely is it to get stolen, and then destroyed or damaged when it is stolen.”
It appears that the insurance struggles of Hyundai and Kia owners aren’t isolated to Denver, either. A Reddit user in Milwaukee noted last year that when they tried to insure a leased vehicle through Progressive, they were told that the insurer could not offer them a policy. Kia and Hyundai owners in these cities have little choice but to shop around. And they may find higher premiums due to these vehicle thefts.
I have reached out to Progressive Insurance with a few questions and for a comment on this matter. I requested a list of Hyundai/Kia vehicles that it will not insure, and I asked if the company is aware of any potential vulnerabilities in the targeted vehicles. The company has not responded as of publishing.
I also reached out to other Geico, Liberty Mutual, Farmers, Allstate, and State Farm to see if those companies are doing something similar.
State Farm got back to me with a short statement: State Farm continues to welcome customers regardless of the make of their vehicle. I didn’t hear back from the other companies as of publishing.
Our lovely designer, Adrian Clarke, says that this situation reminds him of something similar that happened about three decades ago. The Ford Sierra Cosworth had incredible insurance premiums because the vehicles were infamously easy to steal. People still joke about it in the modern day on online forums.
There are some things that owners of a Hyundai or Kia can do to slow down or discourage a theft. Authorities recommend the use of a steering wheel lock. If you’re in Milwaukee, you can get a free steering wheel lock from police after showing proof of vehicle ownership. You can also pick up an aftermarket immobilizer or install a cut-off switch.
I spoke with a tow truck operator who often tows some of these vehicles after they’ve been abandoned or crashed. Their recommendation is a low budget one: disconnect the battery. Their thinking is that if the car won’t start, they aren’t going to waste time trying to diagnose why. Hopefully they’ll give up, and you get to keep your car.
[Editor’s Note: For $13 you can buy a battery disconnect switch. You simply disconnect one of your battery cables, bolt it to this switch, then connect the switch to the battery terminal.
When you leave your car, you just pop the hood and twist the knob, and boom: your car won’t start. You’ll have to reconfigure some of your infotainment settings, but it’s worth it. -DT]
None of these will defeat someone who is really determined to have your car. But they may slow them down enough that they’ll pass up on your vehicle. As the story of these thefts continues to develop you can expect us to follow along. Hopefully, with time this trend will die and owners can begin to breathe easy.
Author’s note: In fairness to Hyundai and Kia, we haven’t done a comparison on how easy vehicles from different marques are to steal. And neither brand’s vehicles made it onto the National Insurance Crime Bureau’s top ten list of most stolen vehicles of 2021.