Toronto, Ontario — In the hopes of balancing out some of the fear mongering that can sprout up when vehicle thefts come on the rise, the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety has unveiled some concrete insights into what vehicles are being targeted, why they are being targeted, and what happens when they are recovered?
It makes sense that thieves target high-end cars, trucks and SUVs as they are some of the most inherently valuable vehicles on the market today. But the IIHS wanted to answer the question of why the mid-range vehicles?
The organization has taken note of a theft trend affecting Hyundai and Kia vehicles specifically and appears to have reached some key conclusions on why these comparatively less valuable vehicles are such an attractive target for thieves.
The short answer is that it is just too easy.
According to the IIIHS’s research, many Hyundai and Kia vehicles built between the model years of 2015 and 2019 lack electronic immobilizers that are commonly found on modern vehicles as a theft deterrent. In fact, most OEMs were already making regular use of the technology during that time period.
In the year 2000, 62 percent of cars on U.S. roads were equipped with electronic immobilizers; by 2015 that number hit 96 percent, while Hyundai and Kia were at about 26 percent.
“Our earlier studies show that vehicle theft losses plunged after immobilizers were introduced,” said Matt Moore, senior v-p of the IIHS’s research wing, the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI).
“Unfortunately, Hyundai and Kia have lagged behind other automakers in making them standard equipment.”
As such, stealing these cars is almost as much a social media trend as it is a quick money-making scheme—just ask the Kia Boyz.
Hyundai has since released a statement acknowledging the trend of theft among their vehicles, but reasserted that its vehicles meet federal safety standards.
“Hyundai Motor America is concerned about the recent rise in auto thefts of certain Hyundai model vehicles. While all of our vehicles meet or exceed Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, unfortunately, our vehicles have been targeted in a coordinated effort on social media.”
Kia responded similarly, also pointing to its safety standards performance, but claimed that “criminals are seeking vehicles solely equipped with a steel key and turn-to-start ignition system” and “the majority of Kia vehicles in the United States are equipped with a key fob and push-button-to-start system.”
This is despite numerous reports to the contrary that push-start ignition vehicles are a highly targeted commodity due to the accessibility of fob reprogramming tools for thieves.
Darrell Russell, a former auto theft investigator who is now director of operations and vehicles at the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB), pointed out that this could be an outlier when it comes to theft methods due to the fact that this trend is centred around stealing and abandoning Kia and Hyundai vehicles, and therefore thieves are largely unconcerned with the damage caused by physically breaking the vehicle’s ignition.
“When you forcibly break the ignition, you’re causing so much damage that it’s not easy to re-VIN and resell the vehicle on the open market,” he said.
Police in the U.S. say theft of these vehicles is accelerating nationally, with law enforcement in Grand Rapids, Mich. reporting that their city faced up to four attempted vehicle thefts per day between May 1 and July 7.
As well, in June last year, Hyundai and Kia owners in Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Missouri and Wisconsin filed class-action lawsuits against the automakers that fought to standardize the technology across both company’s new model lineups.
In the meantime, both OEMs have partnered with a number of local police departments to hook owners up with steering wheel locks. Hyundai says they have found a security kit that will help fix the problem, and will begin offering them to owners at dealerships in October.
As of Nov. 1, 2021, electronic immobilizers were made standard on Hyundai vehicles. As for Kia, many vehicles in its 2022 model lineup now have the technology equipped, with more to have it integrated in the near future.