Connecticut launched an investigation into Hyundai and Kia’s alleged failure to equip their vehicles with “industry standard anti-theft technology,” which has led to thefts rising nationwide and the thefts becoming a social media phenomenon as videos circulate about how to steal them.
Connecticut Attorney General William Tong announced the consumer protection investigation Tuesday, saying the companies’ failure to properly equip their cars has led to “an erosion of public safety” and the need for law enforcement “to divert scarce resources to increased patrols and theft investigations.”
Earlier this month, New York sued Hyundai and Kia on similar grounds to Tong’s investigation, saying they’ve caused a “public nuisance” by failing to properly equip the cars and protect against theft.
Kia and Hyundai settled a customer lawsuit in May for $200 million and said they would issue software upgrades to 8.3 million U.S. vehicles without anti-theft immobilizers; for cars that couldn’t accommodate the upgrade, they would give $300 for owners to buy theft deterrents, like steering wheel locks.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said in February there were at least 14 crashes and eight fatalities reported related to the trend of stealing these vehicles.
Stealing Kias and Hyundais emerged as a trend on TikTok last year when videos started going viral of people cracking the steering column and hotwiring the cars using USB cables; USA Today reported some cities this year have seen Hyundais or Kias account for 60% or more of their auto theft reports, though official data isn’t yet available.
James Bell—head of corporate communications for Kia—told Forbes “contrary to the Attorney General’s claims today,” the company has made it tougher for people to steal its cars by providing software updates and steering wheel locks, and Kia continues to “work cooperatively with law enforcement agencies across Connecticut” to combat theft.
Forbes has reached out to Hyundai for comment on the investigation.
“We’ve got viral videos all over the internet teaching kids how to hotwire these cars in a matter of seconds and glorifying reckless driving that has resulted in injuries and multiple deaths nationwide,” Tong said in the press release announcing the investigation.
Tong’s investigation isn’t the first step Connecticut has taken to address the increase in thefts of Kias and Hyundais. In March, Tong and other attorneys general asked the companies to address the safety concerns, pointing out the software updates they were working on weren’t compatible with all vehicles. Then, in April, 19 attorneys general nationwide asked the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for a federal recall of the cars, though that hasn’t been granted. Tong’s new investigation calls on Kia and Hyundai to turn over “records and information regarding susceptible vehicle(s) sold in Connecticut”—including the companies’ decision making and internal communications—and complaints received about the issue.
Some are blaming the increase in thefts on TikTok, arguing more videos instructing how to steal the cars should be taken down. A TikTok spokesperson told the Verge the company “does not condone this behavior which violates our policies and will be removed if found on our platform.” But a video can’t be taken down from the social media platform unless it violates policy, so unless the video is encouraging others to steal cars or do other illegal things, many videos are protected.
398. That’s how many Kias and Hyundais were stolen in just three weeks last summer in Columbus, Ohio, WBNS reported, coming out to an average of 17 stolen cars a day.
Connecticut announces investigation into social media-linked thefts of Hyundai and Kia vehicles (NBC News)
Attorney General Tong Announces Investigation into Hyundai and Kia Over Theft-Prone Vehicles (Connecticut)
The Kia Boys will steal your car for clout (The Verge)
Kia, Hyundai Offer Owners Security Kits, Locks After Targeted Car Thefts (Forbes)
Ease Of Stealing Kia, Hyundai Cars Leads To $200 Million Automaker Settlement (Forbes)