Stealing old model Hyundai and Kia cars and SUVs became a scary trend on social media. Now data from the Highway Loss Data Institute, which collects information on insurance claims, confirms that these South Korean models are much more likely to be stolen than others.
In fact, 2015-2019 Hyundai and Kia models are about twice as likely to be stolen as other vehicles of a similar age. The reason is that many of these vehicles lack some basic auto theft prevention technology included in most other vehicles, even in those years, according to the HLDI.
These models do not have electronic immobilizers that rely on a computer chip in the car and another in the key that communicate to confirm that the key is genuine and really belongs to that vehicle. Without the correct key, an immobilizer should do exactly that – stop the car from moving.
Immobilizers were standard equipment on 96% of vehicles sold for the 2015-2019 model years, according to HLDI, but were standard on only 26% of Hyundais and Kias. Vehicles that have push-button starting systems, rather than relying on metal keys that must be inserted and turned, have immobilizers, but not all models with turnkey ignition have them.
Hyundai and Kia operate as separate companies in the United States, but the Hyundai Motor Group owns a large stake in Kia, and several Hyundai and Kia models share much of their engineering.
The carjacking trend spread widely on social media last year, according to HLDI. In Wisconsin, where it first became popular, theft reports from Hyundai and Kia were up more than 30 times from 2019 levels in dollar terms.
Some videos posted on TikTok showed allegedly stolen Hyundai and Kia vehicles being driven recklessly and even crashing. “TikTok does not condone this behavior which violates our policies and will be removed if found on our platform,” a TikTok spokesperson said recently.
The method of theft, which involves serious damage to the ignition system, indicates that these cars are being stolen for fun and not for resale, according to HLDI.
“When you forcibly break the ignition, you’re doing so much damage that it’s not easy to re-VIN and resell the vehicle on the open market,” said Darrell Russell, a former auto theft investigator who is now director of operations at the National Insurance Crime Bureau said in a statement. Re-VINing a vehicle means changing or replacing its vehicle identification number, an identification code made up of 17 letters and digits, to make the vehicle more difficult to track.
HLDI estimates of theft frequency are based on the number of a given model on the road and the frequency of vehicle theft claims. Some vehicles are stolen very often simply because so many have been sold, so there are simply too many on the roads to steal.
However, in the case of these Hyundai and Kia models, the theft rates are highly disproportionate to their number on the road.
Vehicles produced after November 1, 2021 and those with push button start are not susceptible to theft in this way, Hyundai spokesman Ira Gabriel said. Electronic immobilizers became standard on all Hyundai vehicles, including those with key ignition, after that date.
Additionally, for those with older vehicles that do not have immobilizers, Hyundai has identified a kit that can be installed to prevent this type of theft. Starting October 1, the safety kit will be available for purchase and installation at Hyundai dealers and authorized installers, the automaker said in a statement.
Kia noted that most Kia vehicles in the United States have push-button start systems that make theft more difficult. NICB advises owners who are concerned their vehicle may be stolen to take simple steps, such as always locking the doors and parking in well-lit areas. Beyond that, owners can also use aftermarket theft-prevention devices such as additional alarm systems, steering wheel and pedal locks, and emergency switches.
Among the newer vehicles, the Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat, a full-size sedan with a supercharged V8 capable of producing more than 700 horsepower, was the most popular with thieves relative to its number on the road, according to HLDI. Dodge vehicles are manufactured by the global automotive company Stellanits.
“All Stellantis vehicles meet or exceed applicable federal standards for safety and security. We employ industry standard technologies, including immobilization capability, across our North American vehicle lineup,” a spokesperson said in an email. “However, we urge all motorists to exercise due care when insuring their vehicles.”
CNN’s Brian Fung contributed to this story.