CLEVELAND — A growing number of Ohioans are driving a class action lawsuit against Hyundai and Kia car companies for what they say is a “defect” making the vehicles vulnerable to theft.
Cars made by the two companies have become targets of a viral social media trend after a TikTok video demonstrated how to steal the vehicles.
The video highlights how thieves can use USB phone chargers to bypass ignition systems in 2011-2021 model Kia vehicles and Hyundai vehicles made between 2015-2021. The cars all have keyed starts and no immobilizer systems to prevent the engines from being started without the correct keys.
Parma resident Talia Capretta believes the social media trend is how she lost her Kia in early July.
“The fact that kids can just look this stuff up is so crazy to me. And they just know how to do it,” she said.
Capretta explained the car went missing while she was staying at a friend’s apartment in Cleveland. She and her boyfriend briefly left to get ice cream and returned to find the car gone.
“We go into a panic,” she recalled. “We were gone for 15 minutes and it was just gone.”
Capretta’s father found the vehicle in the Cleveland impound lot several days later with significant damage.
“The entire front end of the car is gone. It’s completely totaled, completely missing,” she said. “I found out it was stolen and they just smashed it into a pole and they left it there. They recovered it at 7:30 the next morning.”
Though police have not officially linked the theft to the TikTok trend, Capretta believes it meets the criteria.
“There was a USB, that’s not mine, that was under my steering wheel when I found it. So I’m like, ‘That makes perfect sense,’” she said.
Capretta and others believe social media may have perpetuated the thefts, but they think the companies themselves made the vehicles more vulnerable.
“Kia and Hyundai, we allege, have decided to save a buck by getting rid of these immobilizers. And it has made it incredibly easy to steal the cars,” said Laurence Harrington, an attorney at the Harrington Firm.
The firm, along with northeast Ohio-based Payne Law LLC recently filed a class action lawsuit in the Northern District of Ohio against Kia and Hyundai. The attorneys said more than 500 Ohioans who own or lease the vehicles have signed on so far.
“We have 54 different Kias that have been stolen – that’s a different year, make or model – and 48 different Hyundais that have been stolen,” explained Melissa Payne of Payne Law LLC.
The attorneys said they’re hearing reports from clients that some insurance rates are going up and others are unable to resell their Kias and Hyundais at market value because the thefts are driving down demand.
The lawsuit calls the cars manufactured without immobilizers “defective vehicles” and cite several Ohio laws that could entitle Ohio residents who own and lease the vehicles for triple compensation.
Capretta tells News 5 she plans to join the lawsuit because she’s frustrated with a lack of communication and recourse and believes the companies should be held responsible.
“If they knew this was going on for so long, how come I didn’t know? And how come there wasn’t a recall or a message or anything?” she said.
News 5 reached out to both Kia and Hyundai and received statements.
“Hyundai Motor America is concerned about the recent rise in auto thefts of certain Hyundai model vehicles. While all of our vehicles meet or exceed Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, unfortunately, our vehicles have been targeted in a coordinated effort on social media. Criminals are targeting our vehicles without engine immobilizers. Immobilizers became standard on all vehicles produced after November 1, 2021.
In order to assist customers with earlier model year vehicles without an immobilizer, Hyundai has been working with and will continue to support local police departments to make steering wheel locks available for affected Hyundai owners. Additionally, Hyundai has identified a Firstech / Compustar security kit that targets the method of entry thieves are using to access these vehicles.
Beginning October 1, 2022, this security kit will be available for purchase and installation at Hyundai dealerships and Compustar authorized installers across the country. Hyundai will provide additional details soon, and customers who have questions can always contact the Hyundai Consumer Assistance Center at 800-633-5151.”
“Kia America remains concerned about the increase in auto thefts of a subset of Kia vehicles. It is unfortunate that criminals are using social media to target vehicles without engine immobilizers in a coordinated effort. All of our vehicles meet or exceed Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. While no car can be made theft-proof, criminals are seeking vehicles solely equipped with a steel key and “turn-to-start” ignition system. The majority of Kia vehicles in the United States are equipped with a key fob and “push-button-to-start” system, making them more difficult to steal. All 2022 Kia models and trims have an immobilizer applied either at the beginning of the model year or as a running change. Kia America has provided steering wheel lock devices at no cost to law enforcement in affected areas to deter vandalism and theft. That effort will continue in close coordination with local police departments for distribution to concerned owners of Kia vehicles not originally equipped with an immobilizer. Kia customers with questions regarding their specific vehicle should contact the Consumer Assistance center directly at 1-800-333-4542(4Kia).”
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