Lack of an electronic immobilizer appears to be an invitation to thieves.  -  Photo: NICB/HLDI

Lack of an electronic immobilizer appears to be an invitation to thieves.


Among 2015-2019 model-year vehicles, theft claims were nearly twice as common for Hyundai and Kia vehicles as a group as for all other manufacturers, according to a recent Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) analysis.

HLDI tracks “whole vehicle theft” by monitoring theft claims under comprehensive insurance that mirror the dollar value of the vehicle covered by the policy. The Hyundai Accent, Kia Rio, and both the two-wheel-drive and four-wheel-drive versions of the Kia Sportage all climbed into the top 20 in HLDI’s latest whole vehicle theft report.

Different vehicles are targets of thieves for different reasons For example, they may be fast, high worth, or simply easy to steal. The latter appears to be true of older Hyundai and Kia models.

For example, as the HLDI notes, many 2015-2019 Hyundai and Kia vehicles lack electronic immobilizers that prevent thieves from simply breaking in and bypassing the ignition. Yet that feature is standard equipment on nearly all vehicles of that vintage made by other manufacturers.

Can one small gadget make that big a difference? The HLDI says vehicle theft losses plunged after immobilizers were introduced.

In model year 2000, immobilizers were already standard on 62% of models from other manufacturers. But even in model year 2015, when immobilizers were standard on 96% of other manufacturers’ vehicles, they were standard on only 26% of Hyundai and Kia vehicle models.

To make matters worse, in 2021, the ease of access on cars without immobilizers went viral on social media leading to a stealing trend.  In Wisconsin, the fad caused overall losses from Hyundai-Kia thefts — the amount paid on theft claims per insured vehicle year — to soar to more than 30 times the 2019 level. An insured vehicle year refers to one vehicle insured for one year, two vehicles insured for six months and so forth.

Police advisories and news reports also indicate that Hyundai and Kia thefts have continued steadily in 2022. Police in Grand Rapids, Michigan, for instance, say there were nearly four thefts or attempted thefts per day between May 1 and July 7 in that city.

The sister manufacturers are working to rectify the problem by taking action to address the vulnerable vehicles already on the road. Both manufacturers are working with local police departments to make steering wheel locks available to affected owners. Hyundai also says it has identified a security kit it believes will help. The kit will be available for purchase and installation at Hyundai dealerships beginning in October.

Immobilizers are standard on all Hyundai vehicles built after Nov. 1, 2021, and immobilizers were installed on all 2022 Kia models and trims either at the beginning of the model year or as a running change.

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