COLUMBUS, Ohio, (WCMH) – The last weekend of July saw dozens of stolen cars in Columbus, making for the latest in a trend targeting two specific vehicle brands.
Data from the Columbus Division of Police obtained Tuesday by NBC4 showed where more than 30 attempted and successful Kia and Hyundai car thefts happened from July 29 to July 31. The majority were focused in areas around the Short North, but some outliers included thefts near Steelton and south and west Columbus.
The weekend slew of car thefts was the latest in a year-long surge. Columbus police have reported 1,002 stolen Hyundai cars in 2022, compared to 187 in 2021. Kia drivers saw 944 of their cars stolen compared to 169 in 2021. It's not just the thefts that are increasing, but also the number of attempted thefts.
Hilliard police have noticed a similar trend over the course of the summer. Though it's on a smaller scale, investigators there painted a similar story.
"Since May, we've investigated 15 stolen vehicles, nine of which were Kia or Hyundai," a Hilliard Division of Police spokesman said.
Columbus police said the suspects are almost always teens -- calling themselves "Kia Boys" -- who steal the cars and then post about it on social media. The car thieves have their sights on the two brands because of a vulnerability in some of their models, according to investigators. The Kia and Hyundai thefts have also ended with crashes that sometimes turned deadly. In a local case on July 24, three underage teens hit a city light pole in a stolen Hyundai Elantra, ejecting two of them.
Rachel Ross told NBC4 that babysitting her nephew last week quickly turned into a search for her stolen car.
"My brother-in-law came home and he asked where my car was," Ross said. "In typical brother fashion, I was like ‘Stop messing around. Stop playing with me.’ And he was like ‘no I’m being serious, where’s your car.’"
After she worked with her neighbors and police, Ross said the group found a video on social media, showing the cars stolen from her neighborhood being driven through Merion Village. The kids in the video were so small, one's head was barely above the steering wheel.
The thefts targeting the two car brands are a trend also seen beyond Ohio. One Indiana woman who lost her Kia to auto thieves blamed Youtube and Tiktok users who posted about the car's security flaw online. It's prevalent enough that both Kia and Hyundai both shared their concerns about the rise in thefts nationwide, as well as what the companies would do to address them.
"All 2022 models and trims have an immobilizer applied either at the beginning of the year or as a running change," Kia America said in a statement.
Hyundai Motor America's Ira Gabriel shared a similar plan to address the thefts in its newer models. However, for the older models with the weakness, their owners may have to take matters into their own hands. Rick Ricart of Ricart Automotive suggested that drivers look into installing their own immobilizer in the older cars. These can include electronic technology like push-to-start key fobs, which wirelessly communicate a passcode to the car that allows the engine to start, rather than using a traditional key to turn the ignition.