It took less than a minute to steal several Hyundai and Kia models, and it was happening all over the country.

Why it’s important: The widespread problem was linked to a design flaw in the car, forcing owners to resort to – for now – to antiquated steering wheel locks if they wanted to keep their vehicles safe.

  • Hyundai tells customers that if they want a special safety kit to protect their vehicle, they will have to pay for it.
  • The equipment, “starter interrupts and sirens” that “target the methods used by thieves to enter,” will be available from October 1 for Hyundai vehicles at an undisclosed cost, Hyundai said in a statement.
  • Kia says it doesn’t offer a safety kit at this time.

How it works: The thief broke the window and removed the steering column cover, revealing the ignition. They break the ignition cylinder and start the vehicle with a flat screwdriver or a USB plug-in.

  • They’re “the perfect size to fit in a hole,” Sam Hussein, president of auto repair Metrotech Automotive Group in Dearborn, Michigan, told Axios.
  • This method works on Kias 2011-2021 and Hyundai 2016-2021 which use steel keys instead of fobs and start buttons. They’re targeting cars that don’t have an engine immobilizer — a device that doesn’t allow the car to start in the absence of the correct smart lock, according to the automaker.
  • Damage could be between $2,000 and $3,000, according to Hussein’s estimates. And getting the car back might take a while, he said, as some parts are being ordered due to rising demand.

intrigue: Officials attribute some thefts to trends featured in viral Youtube Videos in Milwaukee who interviewed members of the so-called “Kia Boys.” They show how they supposedly stole the car so fast.

Playing state: Several regions said Kias and Hyundais disappeared in greater numbers this summer, including the Midwest, where a Kia spokesperson told Axios that the problem was most prominent.

  • Detroit had 111 Kias stolen in July and 22 in the first nine days of August, according to its police department. That’s up from 23 in June and 11 or fewer in all previous months in 2022.
  • Charlotte, NC, police reported 156 Kia and Hyundai thefts since June 20, a 346% increase from 35 incidents in the same time period last year.
  • According to NICB 2021 Hot Wheels Report, seven of the 10 most stolen vehicles in Wisconsin are Kias or Hyundais. But neither of those vehicles made the top 10 in the state in 2020 report.

Meanwhile, auto makers get prosecuted across the countryincluding two plaintiffs’ class action lawsuits in Iowa, class action in Wisconsin and two centering class action settings Ohio victims of theft, according to court records and law firms.

  • Car owners allege failure to disclose design flaws that make cars easy to steal. Now, despite acknowledging the problem, the company still “refuses to fix it” or “compensates the consumer,” the Iowa lawsuit says.

  • “Offer [a security kit] and then charging them to put it up is unacceptable,” Jeffrey Goldenberg, a lawyer in the five-plain mainly Ohio-resident lawsuit filed earlier this month, told Axios.

What they say: Hyundai Motor Co., the parent company for the Hyundai and Kia brands, is aware that its cars “have been targeted in a coordinated effort on social media,” a statement provided to Axios said.

  • Hyundai added that all of its vehicles “meet or exceed Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards.” Cars manufactured today all have immobilizers that make them harder to steal.

Important to note: The influence of “Kia Boys” is far from everywhere. Officials in Houston, Austin, Salt Lake City and Richmond, Va., told Axios reporters they were not seeing this trend.

Zoom in: Richard Eldredge reported his 2019 Kia Soul was stolen from the parking lot of his apartment building in Midtown Atlanta on July 7, he told Axios. The car was found the next day, in a state of disrepair. He is now waiting for spare parts due to the supply chain deadlock.

  • “Who would have thought that a boarding-dad like Kia Soul would be targeted by teenagers?” Atlanta journalist and senior editor at VOX ATL said.
  • “His [because it’s] trending on social media and easy to do. Lamborghinis are a little harder to rob.”

Everett Cook of Axios Local edited this story, and Kim Bojórquez, Joe Guillen, Jay Jordan, Joann Muller, Karri Peifer, Asher Price, Katie Peralta Soloff, and Thomas Wheatley contributed.

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