NBC 5 Responds

23 States Blast Hyundai, Kia for ‘Failure to Address' Nationwide Theft Crisis

The coalition of 23 attorneys general offices said both Hyundai and Kia were among the only vehicle manufacturers not to include standard anti-theft technology, which could have prevented the recent rise in thefts.

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A coalition of 23 state attorneys general and consumer protection offices have blasted automakers Hyundai and Kia for the “failure to address” thefts of their vehicles nationwide; a problem that the states say was created by the automakers themselves.

The coalition of attorneys general, including Illinois’ Attorney General Kwame Raoul, blasted both companies on Monday for not doing enough to protect owners of certain models that are easier to steal, due to a hidden security flaw inside. 

“Your consumers continue to be harmed as a result,” a letter by the coalition to key executives for Hyundai and Kia reads. “Worse yet, the thefts contribute to an erosion of public safety as they are frequently accompanied by reckless driving and the commission of other crimes.”

In its letter, the coalition states Hyundai and Kia chose to not include “anti-theft immobilizers as standard equipment” in its vehicles made from 2011 to 2021, despite other automakers including this equipment in their vehicles.

And while the companies announced a potential fix for the problem last month, the coalition of states believes it doesn’t go far enough.

“The recent announcement of a customer service campaign – not a recall – which combines warning stickers, longer alarms and a software upgrade, is positive news but less than is called for under the circumstances,” the coalition wrote in its letter to Hyundai and Kia executives.

The letter continues, “Our concerns with the adequacy of the newly-announced measures are informed by your companies’ slow response and lack of acceptance of responsibility for the crisis over the past few years.”

While thefts of certain Hyundai and Kia models have been reported for years, the numbers grew considerably last year when word of the security flaw went viral in social media videos of thieves stealing Hyundai and Kia models in May 2022.

After those viral videos were released, cities across the U.S. saw a wave of thefts.

In Chicago, thefts increased by more than 890%, amounting to thousands of cars stolen, after those videos went viral last summer, according to Chicago Police records obtained by NBC 5.

Spokespersons for Hyundai and Kia said on Monday they are committed to working with the states, as well as law enforcement, to ensure vehicle security.

Both automakers have blamed the “irresponsible social media challenges” for the problem.

“The recent rise in thefts of our vehicles… has been caused by irresponsible social media ‘challenges,’” a spokesperson for Kia Motors told NBC 5. “It is no way indicative that our vehicles are not in compliance with the legal and engineering performance requirements of [federal motor vehicle safety standards].”

But auto safety and consumer advocates raised concerns last month that these impacted vehicles do not meet federal safety standards, and that a recall was required by law to fix the problem. 

Those advocates point to a specific federal motor vehicle safety standard (FMVSS,) FMVSS 114, which requires all vehicles in the United States to “have a starting system which, whenever the key is removed… prevents the normal activation of the vehicle's engine or motor.”

When asked how the vehicles met these requirements, federal regulators told NBC 5 Responds the automakers themselves are responsible for “self-certifying” its vehicles.

“Under Federal law, vehicle manufacturers are responsible to self-certify that their vehicles comply with all applicable federal motor vehicle safety standards,” a spokesperson for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) told NBC 5 Responds. “NHTSA does not approve vehicles as being in compliance.”

A potential solution is on its way for millions of Hyundai and Kia drivers whose vehicles are more vulnerable to theft, but safety advocates believe the free fix may have come too late and doesn’t go far enough. Lexi Sutter has the story.

Both Kia and Hyundai are adamant their vehicles meet these standards, and that “a recall is neither appropriate or warranted under federal law.”

Last month, Kia and Hyundai announced a potential solution to the theft problem: A free software upgrade that they hope will prevent certain vehicles' engines from starting without a key present.

The customer service campaign is voluntary for drivers, and the automakers said it was taking a “phased approach” as far as which vehicles are eligible in the coming months. 

Kia told NBC 5 on Monday that it has contacted more than one million owners and lessees of impacted Kia vehicles about the software upgrade, and it plans to contact an additional two million drivers by the end of the month.

The coalition of state attorneys general feel that’s not enough, noting that upgrades will not be available for most owners until June, and that the software upgrade is not compatible with some impacted vehicles.

“Your companies’ decisions not to install anti-theft immobilizers as standard equipment… has caused ongoing consumer harm and undermined public safety in communities across the country,” the coalition wrote. “It is well past time that you acknowledge your companies’ role and take swift and comprehensive action to remedy it.”

When Can Drivers Schedule Their Free Upgrade?

Hyundai and Kia say they are “working to maximize completion rates” among impacted drivers by notifying those who are eligible by mail, email and on phone.

Hyundai customers with their Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) can use an online tool at this website here to see when they are eligible to schedule their upgrade.

Here’s the general timeline for when Hyundai drivers can schedule their free upgrade:

PhaseVehicleSoftware Availability
12017-2020 Elantra2015-2019 Sonata2020-2021 VenueFebruary 14, 2023
22018-2022 Accent
2011-2016 Elantra
2021-2022 Elantra
2018-2020 Elantra GT
2011-2014 Genesis Coupe
2018-2022 Kona
2020-2021 Palisade
2013-2018 Santa Fe Sport
2013-2022 Santa Fe
2019 Santa Fe XL
2011-2014 Sonata
2011-2022 Tucson
2012-2017, 2019-2021 Veloster
June 2023

Kia owners can search their VIN using this online tool on Kia’s website linked here to find out if and when their vehicle is eligible for the free software upgrade.

Kia owners can also contact the company’s Customer Care team directly at 1-800-333-4542 (4Kia)

Have a consumer complaint? Call 1-844-NBC-RESP or click here to let us know, so we can help.

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