Car thefts are up in many places around the country, and certain types of Kia and Hyundai vehicles are the main targets. Such thefts come with costs you may not realize.
Car thefts are quick crimes, often taking place in the blink of an eye. But what comes next can be long-lasting and expensive, to not only the owners, but the cities where they live as well.
The Council on Criminal Justice says more criminals are successfully boosting cars and trucks. Compared to 2022, stolen vehicles are up a third in the first half of this year in 37 cities the council sampled, and it stings.
"You need to think of who you're hurting when you're stealing these cars. Because you're stealing from working people," says victim Bill Thompson, who lives just outside of Kansas City, Missouri.
The damage is not just the loss of his car but the loss of his peace of mind.
"I felt unsafe in my home. I'm now looking outside all the time and it's been devastating," he said.
For cities across the country, car thefts also take a financial toll: Costs for police investigations, prosecutions, and a link to jumps in other crimes. Cities including Baltimore, Cleveland, New York and Seattle are suing automakers Hyundai and Kia, two popular targets for car thieves, for these extra costs.
Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott is blaming what he calls cost-cutting measures by Hyundai and Kia for the surge, adding that the situation has left residents vulnerable to more crime and "significantly burdening our police resources."
In Chicago, some 7,000 Kia and Hyundai vehicles were stolen in 2022. Mayor Brandon Johnson has filed suit charging that negligence by the auto makers has been "deeply destabilizing" in the Windy City. He cites stolen cars being used in crimes such as reckless driving, armed robbery and murder.
"These Hyundai and Kia models lack what's called an immobilizer," explains Patrick Olsen, editor in chief of Carfax. "And what the immobilizer does is typically, if there's no key present in the ignition, the engine shouldn't start. But these cars did not have that immobilizer. And that's why they became much easier to break into."
These high-theft cars, made between 2011 and 2022, are key operated and not equipped with push-button ignitions.
As part of a solution, Kia and Hyundai have released free software updates that extend the alarm sound to a minute and require a key to be in the ignition to start the car. But Carfax says nearly five million vehicles still need the fix as owners ignore company notifications.
"People might think it's a marketing scam, they might think it's an extended warranty offer. Unfortunately, that's not the case," said Olsen.
A proposed $200 million settlement in a class action suit filed by car owners was rejected by a federal judge in August, who called it inadequate. As for the city claim, Kia says they are working with local law enforcement to combat car theft. Hyundai says dealers are installing anti-theft devices into these cars as quickly as possible.
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