After a summer of "Gone in 60 Seconds" type car thefts, there is good news for owners of tens of thousands of cars that can be easily stolen, thanks to a viral social media challenge.
A repair kit now showing up at dealerships may end a rash of car thefts nationwide.
Rebecca Perry is among hundreds of Kia and Hyundai owners whose cars have been stolen this year.
"They took away something that I called mine," Perry said.
Her beloved 2019 Kia Soul was stolen from a parking lot outside her home, then taken for a joy ride and wrecked.
Police blame a social media trend on TikTok showing teens how easy it can be, she says, "to start a car and be gone within 20 seconds."
Why are these cars easy targets
So why are thieves targeting particular Kia and Hyundai models?
Auto experts say unlike most cars built in the past 20 years, these cars and SUVs don't have a computer chip in the key fob, that in most modern vehicles must be present for anyone to start the car.
Matt Overbeck is a certified mechanic and owner of Overbeck Auto Services.
He showed us a high-tech key that's used in many cars now, explaining that "there's actually an electronic communication between this key and the vehicle to start the ignition."
Overbeck said the automakers "eliminated some of the anti-theft devices, immobilizer systems, commonly found on a lot of modern vehicles" on some models built until 2021.
How to protect your vehicle
Some police departments in heavily hit areas like Detroit are urging owners to purchase old-school steering wheel locks like The Club.
But the automakers said they are now offering a more permanent fix to dealers and police.
Kia said they are working on ways to deter vandals and thefts.
"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 is working to provide 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)."
Hyundai said beginning Oct. 1, a security kit would be available for owners to purchase.
"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."
That'll be too late to help Rebecca Perry.
But Overbeck says owners with old-school metal keys should contact their dealer for a simple fix that could prevent a major loss.
"It's supposed to require the computer system to see some form of a transmitter," Overbeck said of the repair kit, "to let the engine start now."
He says that could end this disturbing social media trend, and that way, you don't waste your money.
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