- the city of milwaukee is experiencing a big uptick in car thefts, and hyundai and kia vehicles are the majority of vehicles stolen.
- to address the problem, hyundai and kia say they are working with the local police department, which is distributing free steering-wheel locks to milwaukee hyundai and kia owners through the end of the year.
- starting with the 2022 model year, kia said, it will make immobilizers standard on all trim levels of all models, a spokesperson said. hyundai told c/d that all its new vehicles at every trim level have the immobilizers now. these have a transponder in the key fob to prevent a vehicle from being started by someone without the right key.
according to city police in the city of milwaukee, wisconsin, car theft is an increasing problem during pandemic times—and it's especially dangerous to own a hyundai or kia. vehicles of these brands, in fact, represent two out of every three vehicles stolen during the first half of 2021 in milwaukee. city officials, faced with police cuts and a record wave of violent crime, have called on the automakers to fix what they perceive as defects and have threatened to sue them.
according to police and wisn-12, while total year-to-date car thefts have risen nearly 2.5 times since 2020, the number of stolen hyundai and kia models was 25 times higher in just the first six months. milwaukee police reported nearly 10,000 motor vehicle thefts so far this year, compared to 4509 last year and 3487 in 2019. fox 6 milwaukee says it's the highest in 11 years.
when thieves successfully break into a car and start the engine without a key, the targeted vehicles are usually older, don't have anti-theft devices, and have physical ignition cylinders that can be mechanically bypassed. but age apparently hasn't been a factor in milwaukee, where police say that thieves—many of them minors—are jacking late-model or brand-new hyundai and kia vehicles, and many are posting about it on social media.
one car-repair facility owner was quoted by the milwaukee journal sentinel explaining that "kia thieves know they can break the back window without setting off an alarm, unlock the door, quickly peel back the steering column, and either use a screwdriver or a usb port to crank the car and go."
city council members are blaming the automakers for allegedly not installing anti-theft devices such as engine immobilizers in their cars. alderman khalif rainey said the automakers are "directly responsible" for the uptick in crime and that "it's time to fix the problem they created." in separate letters to the u.s. divisions of both automakers, rainey alleged that their cars "can be stolen with nothing more than a usb cable." the city "revealed it's considering suing kia and hyundai under public nuisance laws," according to wisn-12. no lawsuit has been filed. spokespeople for hyundai and kia said in june that the companies were investigating and cooperating with police.
hyundai and kia spokespeople told car and driver that the company is currently "working closely with the milwaukee police department and other local officials and departments." the police are providing anti-theft steering-wheel locks to owners of hyundai and kia vehicles that don't have an engine immobilizer, a transponder in the ignition key that communicates with electronic devices inside the vehicle to prevent theft. hyundai said it is directly supplying the milwaukee police department with these locks.
spokespeople for hyundai and kia told c/d that every new hyundai now has standard engine immobilizers, and that all 2022 kias across the lineup will also have the engine immobilizer fitted as standard equipment. the kia spokesperson also said, "while we have seen the same public statements about the potential for a lawsuit to address a crime wave in milwaukee, we are not aware of the basis for any legal claims against kia america."
it's not just milwaukee and it's not just hyundai/kia products, of course. nationwide, more cars were stolen in 2020 than any year in the past decade, according to the national insurance crime bureau, the lead data source for vehicle thefts reported to insurance companies. a total of 880,595 vehicles were reported stolen, which was an 11 percent increase from 2019. theft increases were reported in 41 states. interestingly, no hyundai or kia model made the nicb's top 10 most-stolen vehicles list for 2020.