Attorneys General Call for Recall of Easily Stolen Hyundai and Kia Vehicles; 7,000 Stolen in Chicago During 2022

(Justin Sullivan / Getty Images via CNN)(Justin Sullivan / Getty Images via CNN)

(CNN) — A coalition of attorneys general for 17 states and the District of Columbia on Thursday called for a federal recall of Hyundai and Kia vehicles that they say are unsafe and too easy to steal.

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The attorneys general called for the recall “following the companies’ continued failure to take adequate steps to address the alarming rate of theft of their vehicles,” a release from California Attorney General Rob Bonta, who is leading the coalition, said.

In a letter to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the coalition requested a recall of “unsafe” Hyundai and Kia vehicles manufactured between 2011 and 2022 “whose easily bypassed ignition switches and lack of engine immobilizers make them particularly vulnerable to theft.”

The vehicles in question, 2015-2019 Hyundai and Kia models, such as the Hyundai Santa Fe and Tucson and the Kia Forte and Sportage, when equipped with turn-key ignitions — as opposed to cars that only require a button to be pushed to start — are roughly twice as likely to be stolen as other vehicles of a similar age. Many of these vehicles lack some of the basic auto theft prevention technology included in most other vehicles, even in those years, according to the Highway Loss Data Institute, an industry group that tracks insurance statistics.

In 2022, there were more than 7,000 Hyundais and Kias stolen in Chicago, a figure that accounts for 10% of all registered Kia vehicles and 7% of all registered Hyundai vehicles in the city, according to a news release from Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul.

NHTSA responded that this isn’t the sort of thing for which the agency could demand a recall.

“This particular matter involves intentional criminal conduct under the purview of law enforcement authorities,” the auto safety agency said in a statement. “However, since last year, NHTSA has repeatedly met with Hyundai and Kia to discuss the causes contributing to the theft vulnerability, review the scope of differing software and hardware in the affected models, and receive regular updates on the companies’ action plans.”

These models became the subject of a viral social media trend in which thieves filmed themselves and others stealing Hyundai and Kia vehicles and taking them for a drive. In some parts of the country, the problem became so bad that some insurance companies refused to write new policies on these Hyundai and Kia models in places where the thefts had become extremely common.

The models in question don’t have electronic immobilizers, which rely on a computer chip in the car and another in the key that communicate to confirm that the key belongs with that vehicle. Without the right key, an immobilizer should do just that — stop the car from moving.

“Hyundai and Kia announced that they will initiate voluntary service campaigns to offer software updates for certain vehicles with this starting-system vulnerability. Unfortunately, however, this is an insufficient response to the problem and does not adequately remedy the safety concerns facing vehicle owners and the public,” the letter to the NHSTA said.

Hyundai and Kia did not immediately respond to CNN’s request comment.

The two South Korean automakers have created a software patch to fix the problem, the automakers have said. Hyundai and Kia operate as separate companies in the United States, but Hyundai Motor Group owns a large stake in Kia, and various Hyundai and Kia models share much of their engineering.

The patch will be installed free of charge on models that need it, with software that requires an actual key in the ignition to turn the vehicle on. The software will also block the car from being started after the doors have been locked using the key fob remote control. The vehicle will need to be unlocked before it can be started.

The software also extends the length of the alarm sound from 30 seconds to a full minute. Hyundai dealers will also affix window stickers stating that the vehicle has anti-theft software installed.

“The bottom line is, Kia’s and Hyundai’s failure to install standard safety features on many of their vehicles have put vehicle owners and the public at risk,” Attorney General Bonta said. “We now ask the federal government to require these companies to correct their mistake through a nationwide recall and help us in our continued efforts to protect the public from these unsafe vehicles.”

Recalls are ordered by NHTSA or, much more commonly, undertaken by automakers to correct safety-related defects. The attorneys general’s letter asserts that the ease of theft of these Hyundai and Kia vehicles constitutes a safety hazard and the vehicles fail to meet federal standards for theft prevention.

“Moreover, thieves have driven these vehicles recklessly, speeding and performing wild stunts and causing numerous crashes, at least eight deaths, and significant injuries,” the letter said.

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