What's Driving LA's Rise in Kia and Hyundai Thefts?

In Los Angeles, Kias and Hyundais accounted for nearly 13% of stolen cars last year. This year, that number is up almost 20%.

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If you own a Kia or Hyundai, your car may be at higher risk of getting stolen.

It’s a bizarre trend that started on social media and it’s hitting the LA area. The I-Team looked into how it’s happening and how you can protect your car.

They’re racing down streets across the country and terrorizing neighborhoods. It’s a frightening TikTok trend – people stealing Kias and Hyundais, most often just for a joyride.

Thieves snagged Eva Arse’s 2015 Kia and dumped it just a few miles from her Ontario home hours later. 

“How can somebody take somebody’s hard work, just leave somebody without a car?” said Arse.

It’s happening because experts say the cars are easy to steal. In fact, in LA alone, Kias and Hyundais accounted for nearly 13% of stolen cars last year, and so far this year, that number is up almost 20%.

Brian Moody with Autotrader explains how the thefts happen. He says some Kia and Hyundai models have a key ignition that doesn't contain an engine immobilizer, a chip that helps the engine recognize a smart key and fob, which prevents theft. 

“If you can bypass the physical key, which is by the way a security advice, then you can get in there and do something that will allow you to start the car,” said Moody.

Doug Shupe with the Auto Club of Southern California says the best fix, for now, is a steering wheel lock device. Thieves can still break through that barrier, but Shupe says it’ll likely scare them off. 

“Having something like this, even if they see it on the steering wheel, they may think it’s too much trouble and go to the next vehicle,” said Shupe.

In fact, both Kia and Hyundai told the I-Team they are providing steering wheel locks to law enforcement in impacted areas to distribute to owners of cars that don’t have immobilizers. 

Hyundai said drivers can also buy a security kit next month, but they wouldn’t say how much it will cost. It did tell the I-Team that “immobilizers became standard on all vehicles produced after November 1, 2021.”

Kia said “all 2022 models and trims have an immobilizer applied either at the beginning of the model year or as a running change.”

Arse is unclear if this is how thieves hijacked her car. She just knows she doesn’t want it anymore. 

“But once I found out they’re easy to steal, I don’t feel safe leaving it,” she said.

Car experts hope this crazy trend ends soon. 

“The good thing about doing these types of stories, is that you’re kind of using the same medium to counter a bad thing. So the more people that get the message, the more people will take precautions,” said Moody.

The Auto Club of Southern California advises Kia and Hyundai owners to park in a garage when possible; in public garages - park near stairs or an elevator, where there’s a lot of foot traffic.  And if you park on the street, make sure it’s under street lights. 

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