Hyundai and Kia may finally have a solution to a theft problem that has dragged on for more than two years, led to class action lawsuits and plagued law enforcement and car owners throughout the United States.
The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration said Tuesday the automakers have developed theft deterrent software for more than 8 million of its vehicles that lack an immobilizer system, which has made them a target of thieves across the country. The software will be provided free of charge to vehicle owners.
The software will be available to about 3.8 million Hyundai and 4.5 million Kia vehicles, according to NHTSA.
The software makes two critical changes to the Kia and Hyundai vehicles. It updates the theft alarm software logic to extend the alarm sound from 30 seconds to one minute and also requires a key to be in the ignition switch to turn the vehicle on.
Hyundai is also sending customers a window sticker alerting would-be thieves that the vehicle is equipped with anti-theft protection. The automaker said it will send the stickers and roll out software updates in a phased approach beginning later this month. Kia, which is under the same parent company, is also rolling out its free software updates, beginning later this month.
The automakers have also supplied more than 26,000 steering wheel locks since November 2022 to 77 law enforcement agencies in 12 states.
Auto thefts rose during the pandemic, but certain brands, namely Kia and Hyundai, took the brunt of it due to vulnerabilities. The problem became so pronounced that city governments (most recently Seattle) and car owners have filed lawsuits against the automakers over the issue.
Many new cars today use chip keys, which communicate with another chip in the ignition switch. When a “match” is made, the vehicle starts. But a number of base Hyundai and Kia models lack protective measures.
Young adults and teens figured out that several lower-priced models of the Kia and Hyundai lacked certain protections and learned to break the back window without setting off the alarm, stripping off the steering column and use a screwdriver or USB port to start the vehicle.
Investigators have blamed instructional videos, which first appeared on YouTube and later made their way to TikTok, for the rise in Kia and Hyundai vehicle thefts. The Kia and Hyundai thefts started in the Milwaukee area by a group dubbed the Kia Boys and spread to several Midwest cities after videos highlighting what they did and how were posted and went viral.
Thousands of these vehicles have been stolen and there have been at least 14 reported crashes and eight fatalities, according to NHTSA, as a result of the nationwide trend.
NHTSA urged owners of these vehicles to contact Hyundai (toll-free at 800-633-5151) or Kia (toll-free at 800-333-4542) for information on the free update.