ST. PAUL, Minn. — A Minnesota man recently filed a class action lawsuit alleging Kia and Hyundai cars are too easy to steal, leading to a spike in the theft of the brands. Milwaukee residents have been dealing with a crime spree involving exactly the same brands.
According to Johnson Becker, a law firm in St. Paul, Kia and Hyundai cars do not come with an engine immobilizer, which is a "significant defect" that gives an advantage to car thieves.
"The immobilizer functions to transmit a code to the engine when a key is in the ignition or a key fob is inside the vehicle," Johnson Becker said in a statement Thursday. "Without one, a would-be thief needs only to strip the ignition column; basic tools such as a screwdriver, knife, or USB cord can then be used to start the vehicle."
According to the complaint, the thefts of Hyundai vehicles have risen 584% in St. Paul and Kia's are 13 times more likely to be stolen than previously. The plaintiff's Kia was stolen in August after thieves used a screwdriver to start his car, Johnson Becker says.
Mike Martin, Undersheriff of Ramsey County in Minnesota, says the "design flaw" is to blame for the increase in thefts.
"Despite the auto makers' awareness of this defect, and the resulting rise in thefts, neither Kia nor Hyundai have initiated a recall," Johnson Becker said. "The lawsuit further alleges that Kia and Hyundai are in violation of a Federal Motor Vehicle Standard that require a vehicle cannot be started without a key."
The complaint also states that as of mid-2022, Kia and Hyundai were the most commonly stolen brands in Minneapolis. The rise in crime is not new to the Milwaukee area. Kias and Hyundais accounted for two-thirds of stolen vehicles during the first half of 2021 in Milwaukee, the complaint says. Johnson Becker says due to these trends, all new Kia and Hyundai vehicles are "allegedly outfitted with engine immobilizers."
Despite Milwaukee police reporting a decrease in stolen automobiles this year compared to 2021, police still warned criminals are finding new ways to override steering wheel locks. The locks are given to the owners of Kias and Hyundais in the city. As previously reported, anyone with a Kia from the years 2011 to 2021 or Hyundai from the years 2015 to 2021 is vulnerable.
A majority of these thefts in Milwaukee are hits from the so-called "Kia Boys." The group consists mostly of teenage boys who steal Hyundais and Kias for joy rides. They often crash the cars or abandon them after they run out of gas or get "too hot" after being reported stolen.
"We have seen them engaged in reckless behavior, especially in groups, you know, the little cliques from about 12 years old to about mid-20s is usually our age range," Sergeant Efrain Cornejo with the Milwaukee Police Department previously told TMJ4 News.
They are known to use a USB cable to manipulate a mechanism that starts the car.
You can read the full lawsuit on Johnson Becker's website.