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Kia, Hyundai thefts surge amidst social media trend; Free steering wheel locks offered

A driver crashed a suspected stolen Kia Sportage into a front yard on Cleveland's East Side overnight.
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Posted at 7:10 AM, Nov 29, 2022
and last updated 2022-11-29 18:57:16-05

CLEVELAND — Another rash of thefts targeted Kias and Hyundais across Northeast Ohio overnight as local law enforcement agencies grapple with cracking down on a surging crime trend. Certain model years of Hyundai vehicles (2016 to 2021) and Kias (2011 to 2021) have proven susceptible to theft because of a vulnerability with the ignition systems in each of the vehicles.

One of the suspected stolen Kia vehicles crashed into the front yard of a home on Cleveland's east side overnight near the corner of Pratt Avenue and East 97th. As of Tuesday evening, the suspect had not yet been taken into custody. News 5's overnight photographer captured video showing what appeared to be a USB cable in the Kia Sportage's ignition system, which had been tampered with. First exposed in a series of TikTok videos under the hashtag #KiaBoys, thieves are able to start the car by using a USB device in the exposed ignition system.

The crime trend has swept the nation, resulting in the South Korean automaker issuing steering wheel locks to local police agencies to provide to their residents. The Fairview Park Police Department received a shipment of steering wheel locks — also known as clubs — on Tuesday afternoon. Within minutes of the department posting on Facebook, residents started dropping by to pick one up.

"It tells you how popular those two brands are and that because of how many model years are involved, there are a lot of people that are worried about losing their cars," said Chief Paul Shepard.

Earlier this month, Cleveland Police told News 5 that there has been a 13 percent increase in motor vehicle theft since the start of the year. Kias and Hyundais represent a large portion of them. Fairview Park has had a rash of thefts over the past two months as well, Chief Shepard said.

"Basically, you have to lock your car in the garage because anywhere it’s out, [criminals] can smash a window, pop the lock and use a device to start the car," Chief Shepard said. "Really these cars can be stolen in a couple of minutes."

An Ohio City woman who asked to remain anonymous spoke with News 5 Monday evening about her personal encounter.

RELATED: Do you know these men? Ohio City woman catches thieves on camera while they try to steal her car

She told News 5's Jessi Schultz that it has gotten so bad she and her fiancé would not park their Hyundai Elantra on the street.

They chanced it, and ultimately her ring doorbell captured the tense and chaotic moment crooks tried to steal her car.

The video shows her running after the men who were driving a KIA of their own, breaking into her Elantra.

As they spotted her, they left the car behind and got out of the area.

Many drivers are picking up the pieces and dealing with a pricy aftermath that she describes, "The back driver's side door window is smashed in. The whole plastic covering around the steering wheel has been pulled off. The windshield wiper thing has been completely ripped off."

Experts say there is a slight glimmer of hope in this situation.

Crooks can't start the car if it has a push-to-start button.

However, they're still breaking into many cars.

Experts suggest parking your car inside a garage, parking close to your home, using home surveillance footage, buying an immobilizer that can prevent the car from being started with an outside device, and using a steering wheel lock.

Many police departments across Northeast Ohio are giving out steering wheel locks including Cleveland, East Cleveland, and North Royalton Police.

Check with your area department and see if they have any free steering wheel locks on hand.