See today’s report and previous reports on increased Kia and Hyundai thefts in the video player above.
COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – After a year where car thefts skyrocketed for two makers thanks to a security flaw, both of them are trying to retroactively protect their customers.
Hyundai announced Tuesday it was rolling out anti-theft software updates to select models in response to a surge of stolen car incidents specifically targeting its brand. Specifically, the upgrades change vehicle control modules on Hyundai cars that use regular keys for their ignition systems. After the software update, when drivers get out of their cars and lock them with the key fob, it will activate that Hyundai model’s factory alarm and an “ignition kill.”
Hyundai claims the new software update will prevent the car from starting if someone tries to steal it. The car would only release its ignition kill feature when a driver unlocks the car again with the key fob.
The car manufacturer said the software update would be provided completely free for any driver who brings their Hyundai to a local brand-name dealership. While some cars are immediately eligible for the update, other models will have to wait until June 2023.
“We have prioritized the upgrade’s availability for owners and lessees of our highest-selling vehicles and those most targeted by thieves in order for dealers to service them first,” said Randy Parker, CEO of Hyundai Motor America.
Hyundai prepared the chart below to show which cars can upgrade now:
2018-2020 Elantra GT
2011-2014 Genesis Coupe
2013-2018 Santa Fe Sport
2013-2022 Santa Fe
2019 Santa Fe XL
2012-2017, 2019-2021 Veloster
Kia followed suit, and told NBC4 on Wednesday that it was also releasing a security patch for its cars. Like Hyundai’s, it disables a Kia cars’ ignition systems when not in use to protect against thieves. The car manufacturer did not post a list of vehicles eligible for the upgrade, but said it would notify owners by mail when the software is ready for their model.
The software updates are intended to block a theft method popularized on Tiktok and social media which led to a spike in thefts of Kia and Hyundai cars. Taking advantage of some Kia and Hyundai models’ lack of engine immobilizers, thieves commonly jammed a screwdriver or USB cable into the steering column to get the two brands’ cars to start without a key.
Teens as young as 14 were sometimes behind the thefts of the two makes in Columbus. A July crash involving a stolen 2013 Hyundai Elantra ended with two 14-year-olds dead. The third teen in the car, who survived, was then later confirmed by police as the driver of another stolen Hyundai that crashed into a garbage truck.
One of those who had their car stolen was Makenzie Bell, who lives in the Italian Village section of Columbus. Bell said her troubles started in December 2021.
"I came out to go to work, had my lunch box, had my bag, I was ready to go and I came out and my car wasn't there," she said. "Of course, in that moment, I had this panic of, like, OK, did I park it somewhere that, you know, I don't remember, did my car get towed? I did notice the glass on the ground and that's when it dawned on me: 'OK, my car has been stolen.'"
The thefts in 2022 led to the City of Columbus filing a lawsuit against both Kia and Hyundai. Aside from software updates, both car makers also tried to combat the thefts with other options. Kia and Hyundai both distributed steering wheel locks for free. Hyundai also released a security kit with Compustar -- which included a glass break sensor -- for its older models. However, customers had to pay $170 to get one.
Some 2011 to 2022 models of cars missing engine immobilizers will not be able to receive the software updates, according to Hyundai. The company said it is working on a program to reimburse owners of those specific models to buy steering wheel locks.
Bell was one of those who purchased a steering wheel lock for her Kia Sportage, which was recovered in Whitehall after the theft. The car was in the shop for four months for repairs tied to the theft.
"My car has been attempted stolen an additional two times," she said. "They broke into the glass again. They weren't able to because I keep a Club on my car, on the steering wheel. Every day, I walk out to go to work and every day, I have that anxious feeling of, 'Will my car be here?'"
Three weeks ago, Bell took her car into Kia for an oil change and was able to get the software update.
"We were talking about it and as he was getting me signed up for my service and filling out paperwork, he was, like, 'You're never going to believe this. You have a recall on your car for an anti-theft system,'" Bell said.
She said the upgrade took about an hour.
"It was a really pleasant surprise to hear that they were showing up for the customers and doing the right thing and getting that recall moving," Bell said.
Hyundai has created a website for owners of its cars to check their eligibility for the software update, and where to get it. Click here to visit. Kia also encouraged owners with questions about its software upgrade to call 1-800-333-4542, or visit its website for both software patch and steering wheel lock availability.