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Council urges Bibb administration to sue Kia, Hyundai as car thefts keep surging

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Posted at 5:27 PM, Mar 07, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-07 19:26:04-05

CLEVELAND — As the number of reported thefts of Kias and Hyundais continues to surge in Cleveland and Cuyahoga County, the Cleveland City Council unanimously passed a non-binding resolution on Monday night urging the Bibb administration to file suit against the auto giants. Other large cities, including Seattle and Columbus, have sued Kia and Hyundai to recoup the public resources expended on investigating and otherwise dealing with the surge in stolen cars.

As News 5 has extensively reported, certain model year Kia and Hyundai vehicles have a vulnerability within the ignition system which allows thieves to quickly and efficiently steal the vehicle in less than 90 seconds. Oftentimes, thieves are able to steal the vehicle with a simple USB cord.

According to police data, the Cleveland Division of Police received more than 1,100 reports of stolen motor vehicles from Jan. 1, 2023 through Feb. 23, 2023, marking a 110% increase over the same time period in 2022. Across the county, the number of insured Kias and Hyundais stolen during the final three months of 2022 was more than 230% higher than in the same time period in 2021.

Behind those statistics, however, are real victims left to navigate daily life without their vehicle and the insurance claims that often follow.

“I wasn’t one of those people that waited… I went and purchased my own [steering wheel lock]. I felt a little secure with that. Then, I get the notification that there is a software update and I put all of my trust into that,” said Brittany, a resident of Cleveland’s West Side that reported her car stolen on Monday night. Out of concern for her safety, Brittany asked News 5 not to divulge her last name.

“I knew that my car could be stolen but I never really thought at this point with all the protection that I had on it that it would be stolen. It still happened," she said.

Brittany's stolen 2021 Kia K5

Brittany said her car, a white 2021 Kia K5 with Ohio license plate JLQ 7448, was parked out front of her west side home on Monday night. Undisturbed, the car remained outside her home as late as 8 p.m. At some point over the next hour, thieves had quickly and quietly stolen it.

“With the [steering wheel] lock and the new software update that [Kia] swears by, my car was still stolen. Not a single sound, nothing. Absolutely nothing,” Brittany said.

In late January, Kia and Hyundai rolled out software patches that the automakers claimed would make their vehicles with key-turn ignitions much more difficult to steal. Brittany said she quickly made an appointment at her local dealership and the software patch was installed. For added security, she continued to use her steering wheel lock.

“I feel like Kia does owe me an explanation as to why. I even got the software update that [Kia] swore by and [the company] is admitting my car wasn’t supposed to start with [the software patch]. I am upset but what am I supposed to do about it?” Brittany said.

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After reporting her vehicle stolen, Brittany said she found a white Kia Optima with a broken passenger side window — a hallmark of the surge in stolen Kias and Hyundais — that had been left running in a parking lot about a block away from her home. As has often been the case, the thieves appeared to have dropped off a stolen Kia prior to making off with Brittany’s vehicle.

“My daughter’s birthday is next Wednesday. Their car seats are gone. I just got them new car seats. All of that is gone. They just ruined my daughter’s birthday. But, like I said, we weren’t robbed. We weren’t harmed,” Brittany said. “Your car got stolen and you need to get over it because, at this point, it’s gone and there’s nothing you can do about it. There is no crying. There is no screaming. You just wait for it to pop up and you just have to get over it.”

Brittany's stolen 2021 Kia K5

The surge in stolen Kias and Hyundais, which was prompted by a series of videos posted on TikTok and the absence of ignition interlock systems, has been a drain on police resources in Cleveland and across the country. According to the resolution unanimously passed by Council on Monday night, the city has had to expend more resources to investigate the thefts, respond to criminal activity associated with and stemming from the thefts, and assess the destruction of property that has occurred as a result of the thefts.

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The dramatic increase in reported auto theft in the city comes as local police departments nationwide have reported similar increases, largely due to the absence of anti-theft devices in certain Kias and Hyundais that have long been standard for other automakers. When installed, the anti-theft devices, which are called passive immobilizers, prevent a car from being started unless the ignition system is matched with a unique key. This matching is typically orchestrated by corresponding computer chips in both the key and the ignition.

The Bibb administration is expected to release additional data on Wednesday as well as share information on what the city is doing to curb the surge in thefts. Mayor Justin Bibb, Ward 13 Councilman Kris Harsh, Deputy Chief Harold Pretel and Law Director Mark Griffin will be in attendance.