Police, manufacturers, and government officials are urging Hyundai and Kia owners to seek necessary anti-theft repairs and upgrades following a wave of targeted thefts. Certain Hyundai and Kia models with keyed ignitions built between 2010 and 2022 lack electronic immobilizers. Electronic immobilizers prevent a car from starting if a code programmed onto a microchip inside the key does not match the code inside the car’s computer.
Although electronic immobilizers are a simple technology that has been a standard feature in the automotive industry for decades, Hyundai and Kia chose not to include them in specific models manufactured in the last several years. This omission has made these vehicles vulnerable to simple car theft tactics recently popularized in trending instructional videos on social media. The following Hyundai and Kia models lack electronic immobilizers and are susceptible to these theft tactics:
- 2018-2022 Hyundai Accent
- 2011-2022 Hyundai Elantra
- 2013-2020 Hyundai Elantra GT
- 2013-2014 Hyundai Genesis Coupe
- 2018-2022 Hyundai Kona
- 2020-2021 Hyundai Palisade
- 2020-2021 Hyundai Venue
- 2013-2022 Hyundai Santa Fe
- 2013-2018 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport
- 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe XL
- 2011-2019 Hyundai Sonata
- 2011-2022 Hyundai Tucson
- 2018-2021 Hyundai Veloster
- 2011-2021 Kia Forte
- 2021-2022 Kia K5
- 2011-2020 Kia Optima
- 2011-2021 Kia Rio
- 2011-2021 Kia Sedona
- 2021-2022 Kia Seltos
- 2011-2022 Kia Sorento
- 2010-2022 Kia Soul
- 2011-2022 Kia Sportage
Kids as young as 11 or 12 can steal Hyundai’s and Kia’s without immobilizers to go for joyrides. Due to the catch-and-release enforcement approach and the popularity of the affected Hyundais and Kias, some Hyundai and Kia cars have been stolen multiple times. Professional criminals have also noted the vulnerability of these models. Minneapolis Police Chief Brian O’Hara says the crime wave targeting these Hyundai and Kia vehicles is similar to the scourge of auto thefts major cities faced in the 1980s and 1990s.
Installing electronic immobilizers is not legally required. Therefore, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has not issued a mandatory recall since the affected models meet all other federally mandated safety standards.
However, Hyundai and Kia have announced they will offer free anti-theft repairs and upgrades to the affected models to solve this problem. Both automakers are offering either a software upgrade or a steering-wheel lock. The software patch will increase the time the alarm sounds from 30 seconds to one minute and will also require the car key to be in the ignition before the vehicle can start. Hyundai Motor America’s Vice President for After-Sales, Dave VandeLinde, explained that the new software features will be activated using the car’s key fob. He stated that when the owner locks their vehicle with the lock button on their key fob, it will arm the new software immobilizer system.
According to Carfax, nearly 5 million Hyundai and Kia vehicles are estimated to lack electronic immobilizers and require these anti-theft repairs and upgrades. However, despite compliance with federal regulations and making a goodwill effort to improve the situation, Hyundai and Kia have become targets of legal action, political criticism, and potential investigations.
In March, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison started investigating whether Hyundai and Kia automakers violated Minnesota’s consumer protection and nuisance laws by not including electronic immobilizers in the cars’ original designs. Ellison has also pressured Hyundai and Kia to issue a voluntary recall.
Additionally, although Minnesota is not part of a current class-action lawsuit against Hyundai and Kia, Ellison wrote a letter to the court claiming that nearly half of the five million cars cannot receive the software updates due to technical reasons. In October of 2023, U.S. District Judge James Selna approved a $145 million settlement that allows Hyundai and Kia owners to receive up to $3,375 per theft or attempted theft of the affected vehicles. Vehicle owners whose insurance rates have been adversely impacted by the wave of thefts would also be eligible to receive an additional $375.
Because the upgrades are voluntary and there is no official recall, raising awareness is the key to fixing these issues and protecting affected car owners. Notably, Carfax partnered with Hyundai and Kia to inform consumers about the problem and how to repair it. Carfax will include details about the anti-theft issue in their Vehicle History Report to see if buyers are interested in Hyundai and Kia’s free software upgrade and steering-wheel lock.
The automakers are also attempting to improve their public image by partnering with politicians and law-enforcement officials to encourage affected consumers to receive free software patches and steering-wheel lock fixes. Several press events have already been held in Minnesota at dealerships, public parks, and shopping areas.
So far, reactions and results are mixed. Minneapolis police stated they had no known instances of vehicles with upgraded systems being stolen. However, Minnesota Attorney General’s Office spokesperson Brian Evans noted that his office is still hearing from Hyundai and Kia owners who have had their vehicles stolen, even after they installed the upgraded systems.
People who own an affected Hyundai or Kia vehicle should contact their local dealer and personal attorney to protect their car and see what legal, financial, and practical remediation options may be available. Despite efforts to increase public awareness and make repairs and upgrades, theft of the affected Hyundai and Kia models remains high, and owners should remain vigilant. The following ten states have the highest amounts of these vulnerable Hyundai’s and Kia’s:
- California: 506,000
- Florida: 502,000
- Texas: 433,000
- Pennsylvania: 227,000
- Ohio: 215,000
- New York: 211,000
- Georgia: 192,000
- Illinois: 189,000
- North Carolina: 178,000
- New Jersey: 143,500
Always remember to run a VINsmart report on any used vehicle before making a purchase. A VINsmart report runs a complete history on the vehicle including whether it has ever been reported as stolen, involved in a major accident, or listed as a totaled vehicle.
VINsmart reports will also give you a registration history and mileage at registration. It reports any significant incidents related to the vehicle, such as being involved in a fire or flood.
When purchasing a used vehicle, the best way to ensure you make a good purchase is to know the vehicle’s complete history.