SEATTLE — Seattle City Attorney Ann Davison filed a lawsuit Monday in federal court against car manufacturers Kia and Hyundai, alleging their failures to install anti-theft technology in some vehicles contributed to an exponential rise in thefts.
A city release states that from 2021 to 2022, thefts of Kia and Hyundai cars increased by 363% and 503%, respectively. The lawsuit alleges that Kia and Hyundai knew of the public safety concerns from the spike in thefts of their vehicles and that neither company took meaningful steps to address the problem.
“Kia and Hyundai chose to cut corners and cut costs at the expense of their customers and the public. As a result, our police force has had to tackle a huge rise in vehicle theft and related problems with already stretched resources. Now Seattle taxpayers must shoulder the burden of the increase in theft,” said Davison. “Kia and Hyundai need to take responsibility for the public safety hazard that they created.”
An insurance industry group said in September that these cars are stolen at nearly twice the rate of the rest of the auto industry because their keys lack computer chips for theft “immobilizer” systems. Instructional videos from social media are believed to have helped spread knowledge of this information.
The Highway Loss Data Institute, a unit of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, found that Hyundais and Kias without immobilizers had a vehicle theft claim rate of 2.18 per 1,000 insured vehicle years. The rest of the industry combined had a rate of 1.21. An insured vehicle year is equal to one vehicle insured for one year.
The institute, which issued its findings on Thursday, compared vehicles from the 2015 through 2019 model years. It studied vehicle theft claims from 2021.
“Now that people know how easy it is to steal Hyundais and Kias, the Seattle Police Department has noticed a huge increase in the theft of these models,” Chief Adrian Z. Diaz said in a statement “from 48 reported thefts of Hyundais and Kias in August to 197 in December. Sixty-four percent of those vehicles were later recovered within city limits, which shows they’re most likely being taken for short periods of time, often in order to commit other crimes. To protect the hard-earned property of Seattle residents, car makers need to take this problem seriously and do all they can to prevent these thefts.”
Drivers Phaedra Harmon and Mike Engelhart say they both had their vehicles stolen with the method described.
"Even the tools in my trunk they didn't take, they did carve Kia Boys into my hood and into the side of my car, they smashed my screen, they carved in the back of my seat, they took a knife to the roof of my car, it was tattered completely, it smelled weird, but it was intact, there was only one other scrape on the outside," Harmon said. "I'm really glad someone's doing something, and I hope that means that people who drive Hyundais and Kias can get their cars protected because now that people know how easy it is to steal them, who knows how long its gonna last."
Engelhart, too, said he hopes this will make a difference moving forward. He says when he called the theft he faced in, he learned how common the issue was.
"Even if they do find it you don't know what condition it's going to be in," Engelhart said. "The day mine got taken the officer said he was responding to fourteen."
Both Hyundai and Kia shared statements with KING 5 in response to Monday's lawsuit.
Hyundai: "Hyundai believes this lawsuit is improper and unnecessary. In response to increasing thefts targeting our vehicles without push-button ignitions and immobilizing anti-theft devices in the United States, Hyundai Motor America has made engine immobilizers standard on all vehicles produced as of November 2021. Additionally, Hyundai has taken a series of actions to deter thefts of affected vehicles, including an upcoming software update scheduled to be available beginning next month and provided at no cost to customers.
Hyundai is also providing free steering wheel locks, as available, to select law enforcement agencies across the country, including in the Seattle area, for distribution to local residents who own or lease affected models. Owners may also bring their vehicles to a local Hyundai dealer for the purchase and installation of a customized security kit. We apologize for the inconvenience to affected customers."
Kia: "Kia remains concerned that criminal actors are targeting certain Kia cars with a steel key and “turn-to-start” ignition systems. While no car can be made completely theft-proof, Kia continues to make steering wheel locks available to customers through interested local law enforcement agencies, subject to available supply, at no cost to concerned owners of these vehicles.
Kia also continues its efforts to develop additional solutions for vehicles not originally equipped with an immobilizer, including the development and testing of enhanced security software designed to restrict operation of the vehicle’s ignition system. Kia has started notifying owners of certain models of the availability of this software upgrade at no cost, and Kia anticipates that it will make software upgrades available for most affected vehicles over the next few months."