Legal Action Taken Against Kia and Hyundai for Sharp Increase in Automobile Thefts in Seattle

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By Car Brand Experts

A lawsuit was initiated by the City of Seattle against car manufacturers Kia and Hyundai this week, alleging that they prioritized profits over public safety by neglecting to incorporate immobilizers in their vehicles. This made their cars susceptible to theft, creating a significant burden for law enforcement and city officials, resulting in undisclosed financial losses, as stated in the legal complaint. Seattle’s legal action could signal the start of a series of lawsuits against the automakers—the most substantial one thus far.

The lawsuit, filed on Tuesday in Washington, echoes similar grievances raised by other municipalities. Seattle’s legal team asserts that Kia and Hyundai knowingly opted against installing immobilizers in their U.S.-sold vehicles from 2011 to 2021 to maximize profits. In contrast, in 2015, nearly all vehicles produced by other manufacturers were equipped with immobilizers while only 26% of Hyundai and Kia cars had this safeguard. Even though these automakers included immobilizers in vehicles sold in other regions during the same period due to legal requirements, they omitted this feature in the U.S.

Several cities in the U.S. experienced a surge in car thefts linked to social media platforms like TikTok, including Milwaukee and Columbus, Ohio, which reported alarming theft rates rendering these vehicles uninsurable by certain companies. The lawsuit cited that Milwaukee police recorded a staggering 2,500% increase in Hyundai and Kia car thefts in 2021 alone. In Seattle, law enforcement witnessed a 620% rise in car thefts involving Hyundai and Kia vehicles in July 2022 compared to July 2021. The majority of these stolen cars were used for joyriding and criminal activities rather than dismantled for parts, as highlighted in the lawsuit. Additionally, the lawsuit detailed multiple tragic accidents involving joyriders who targeted vulnerable Hyundai and Kia vehicles. Notably, the lawsuit mentioned the theft of a Department of Homeland Security-owned Hyundai Sonata containing firearms, ammunition, and body armor.

The Seattle legal representatives argued that the onus to retrofit the cars with keyfob immobilizers should not fall on the owners but on the automakers, criticizing the companies for not taking substantial measures to decrease the theft occurrences.

A representative from Hyundai, in a statement to The Drive, expressed, “Hyundai views this lawsuit as unwarranted and unnecessary. In response to the rising vehicle thefts involving our models without push-button start systems and anti-theft immobilizers in the United States, Hyundai Motor America began standardizing engine immobilizers in all vehicles produced starting November 2021. Furthermore, Hyundai implemented various measures to deter thefts of affected vehicles, including an imminent software update set to launch next month at no cost to consumers. Hyundai is also distributing free steering wheel locks, where available, to specific law enforcement agencies nationwide, including within the Seattle vicinity, for distribution to local residents owning or leasing the affected models. Owners can also visit a local Hyundai dealer for the purchase and installation of a personalized security kit. We apologize for the inconvenience caused to our impacted customers.”

Kia issued a similar statement, stating, “Kia remains alarmed by criminal elements targeting certain Kia vehicles with conventional key and ‘turn-to-start’ ignition systems. While no vehicle can be entirely theft-proof, Kia continues to supply steering wheel locks to customers through interested local law enforcement agencies, subject to availability, at no expense to concerned owners of these vehicles. Kia is actively working on additional solutions for vehicles lacking immobilizers, such as developing and testing enhanced security software that restricts the operation of the ignition system. Kia has initiated notifications to certain model owners regarding the availability of this software upgrade at no cost, with plans to extend this upgrade to most affected vehicles in the coming months.”

Update: Statements from Kia and Hyundai have been integrated into this article.

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