New York City joins a growing list of cities and states taking legal action against Kia and Hyundai.
A series of viral TikToks have inspired a wave of thefts of certain models.
A wide range of Kias and Hyundais are vulnerable to theft as they don't have an engine immobilizer.
New York City has joined a growing list of cities and states to take legal action against Hyundai and Kia.
The lawsuit is over rising rates of stolen Kias and Hyundais, which have been fueled by a series of TikToks on showing how easy certain models of the vehicles are to steal. The people in several videos often identified themselves as part of a group called the "Kia Boys" that were taking credit for stealing the cars and inspiring others to do the same.
The city accused Kia and Hyundai of negligence by not installing engine immobilizers, an antitheft device that stops a car from starting unless it recognizes its specific key in the car, in many Hyundai vehicles from 2015 through 2021, and Kias made between 2011 and 2021 in a lawsuit filed Tuesday.
Other cities including Cleveland, Milwaukee, San Diego, Columbus, St. Louis, and Seattle filed similar lawsuits earlier this year, and more than a dozen state attorneys general called for millions of the cars to be recalled in April, Insider previously reported. State Farm and Progressive have previously said that they would stop issuing new auto insurance policies to certain Hyundai and Kia models because of the increased risk of theft.
The lawsuit alleges the automakers have caused a "spiraling epidemic" of car thefts, and also claims the increased rates of theft has created a "public nuisance" by impacting the safety and peace of New York citizens. About 26% of 2015 model year Kias and Hyundais had immobilizers, while some 96% of vehicles from all other manufacturers in the same year had immobilizers, the suit states.
"Kia continues to take action to help our customers by making it more difficult for criminals to use methods of theft recently popularized on social media to steal certain vehicle models," a Kia spokesperson said in a statement to Insider. The spokesperson also referred Insider to its website where Kia owners can check if their vehicle needs the software update, and said the lawsuits that cities have filed against the automaker are "without merit" because the cars comply with federal antitheft laws.
The suit alleges that while the vehicles do comply with US laws, Kias and Hyundais sold in Canada and the European Union have immobilizers because the laws require them in other countries.
"Hyundai Motor America is committed to ensuring the quality and integrity of our products," a Hyundai spokesperson told Insider, adding that a "subset" of its cars currently on the road in the US don't have the immobilizers.
A rising trend of car theft
The trend seems to have started in Milwaukee by June 2021,the suit argues, citing news reports that thefts of the vehicles increased by some 2,500% from the year prior. That's about 16 cars reported stolen per day by June 2021.
In New York City, the suit cited, Kia thefts increased about 241% between 2021 and 2022. Hyundai thefts similarly increased by 179%.
The thefts haven't slowed, the suit claims. Citing data from the New York Police Department, the suit claims that in the first four months of 2023, the brands combined to make up an estimated 977 stolen vehicles in New York City, about 660% higher than the same time last year, when 148 of them were reported stolen.
Hyundais and Kias were the second and fourth most commonly stolen car brands in the city from January through April, respectively, up from the seventh and eleventh most common last year, the suit claims.
The sharp increase is especially notable when compared to other carmakers, as the suit claims that thefts of Hondas, Fords, Toyotas, BMWs, Nissans, and Mercedes have all decreased in the first four months of 2023 compared to the same time last year.
The suit also alleges there's a link between the rising trend of thefts and multiple accidents in which the people who stole the car or other passengers and drivers were seriously injured or killed.
Hyundai and Kia settled a lawsuit from car owners last month, agreeing to pay out at least $200 million to millions of people that had their car stolen or owned one of the vulnerable models. The lawsuit is another step NYC has taken to reduce the number of thefts. Earlier this year, the mayor's office started giving out hundreds of Apple AirTags to track cars if they are stolen.
The companies have also taken their own measures to reduce thefts, from giving car owners and police departments thousands of steering wheel locks to prevent a car from being stolen to software updates for millions of vulnerable cars. A Hyundai spokesperson said a software update was rolled out to nearly 4 million vulnerable vehicles, and a Kia spokesperson said at least 3 million Kia owners have been notified that their vehicles need an update.
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