It wasn't long before thieves and teenagers discovered they could start the engine without a key. In TikTok videos that became viral in 2021, teenagers shared how easy it is to steal a Hyundai or a Kia and challenged others to do it. From then, the news spread like fire and soon became a national problem. Stealing a Kia was cool, and "Kia Boyz" became a phenomenon.
As you can imagine, this didn't go well with Hyundai and Kia owners in the US. Teenagers and thieves are rarely car experts, so they couldn't quite figure out which cars were vulnerable and which weren't. Thus, every Hyundai and Kia could become a target. Even if it couldn't be stolen, breaking the windows and ripping off the steering wheel column caused enough damage to cost owners a lot of money. This is why Hyundai and Kia are named in dozens of class-action lawsuits across the US.
The problem has become so widespread that not only owners sued the Korean carmakers but also local authorities. Cities are annoyed that police must deal with countless thefts, consuming time and resources. In January, Seattle sued Hyundai and Kia to recover spending dealing with the thieves. Now, New York City is doing the same thing, alleging the two companies have created a "public nuisance" because they didn't install electronic immobilizers.
"In electing profits over safety and deviating from industry norms by not including engine immobilizers as a standard safety feature, Defendants created and maintained a public nuisance," the city said in the filing made in the US District Court in the Southern District of New York.
New York City said in the filing that Hyundai and Kia thefts have exploded in 2023. Around 977 Hyundai and Kia vehicles were reported stolen in the first four months of the year. This represents a 660% increase compared to the same months in 2022, when there were only 148 such thefts. Hyundai and Kia have tried to offer owners free steering wheel locks but refused to recall the vehicles to install immobilizers.
Interestingly, a similar theft spiral has not been recorded north of the border. The reason is that Canada made anti-theft devices mandatory in 2007. In the US, the immobilizers only became standard on Hyundai and Kia vehicles in November 2021.