Looking to settle a class-action lawsuit, Hyundai and Kia agreed on Thursday to pay more than $200 million to owners of as many as 9 million vehicles that currently lack engine immobilizers, a feature common in other new vehicles. This engineering oversite has led to extensive car thefts of 2011-2021 Kia vehicles and 2016-2021 Hyundai vehicles that use a metal key to start the vehicle. Hyundai and Kia vehicles built for the 2022 model year have the feature.
“Hyundai and Kia failed to sell cars equipped with fundamental anti-theft features, and that was not a victimless act,” said Elizabeth A. Fegan, of Fegan Scott and Humphrey, one of the firms handling the class action lawsuit.
What the companies will cover
According to attorneys for the owners, the agreement includes up to $145 million for consumers’ out-of-pocket damages after having their cars stolen. The Korean automakers will compensate owners for out-of-pocket damage, including total loss of vehicles up to $6,125, damage to vehicle and personal property up to $3,375, and other related expenses including car rental, taxi costs, ride share costs or other costs not covered by insurance. Payments will also cover towing costs, replacement vehicles fees and taxes, those whose vehicles suffered crashes or were stolen and never recovered, as well as tickets, fees or fines arising from the stolen vehicle and lost income or childcare expenses.
“Today’s announcement will allow customers who have been impacted by vehicle thefts to receive additional benefits,” said John Yoon, chief legal officer, Kia America, Inc.
The sentiments were echoed over at Hyundai.
““We appreciate the opportunity to provide additional support for our owners who have been impacted by increasing and persistent criminal activity targeting our vehicles,” said Jason Erb, chief legal officer, Hyundai Motor North America. “Customer security remains a top priority.”
Which vehicles are affected
Owners of the following vehicles will also get a free software upgrade that prevents the vehicles from starting without the key.
Hyundai vehicles include: 2018-2022 Accent, 2011-2022 Elantra, 2013-2020 Elantra GT, 2018-2022 Kona, 2013-2022 Santa Fe, 2013-2018 Santa Fe Sport, 2019 Santa Fe XL, 2011-2019 Sonata, 2011-2022 Tucson, 2012-2017, 2019-2021 Veloster, 2020-2021 Venue, 2013-2014 Genesis Coupe and 2020-2021 Palisade.
Kia vehicles include: 2011-2022 Kia Sportage, 2011-2022 Kia Sorento, 2021-2022 Kia K5, 2011-2021 Kia Sedona, 2014-2021 Kia Forte, 2012-2021 Kia Rio, 2021-2022 Kia Seltos, 2011-2020 Kia Optima and 2020-2022 Kia Soul.
Models not able to receive the software upgrade will be eligible for up to $300 for the installation of an anti-theft system, a steering wheel lock, or other modifications to help prevent theft.
“We believe this settlement offers comprehensive, welcome relief for the class that will serve as a lesson to automakers to not overlook such integral, basic safety features,” said Roland Tellis of law firm Baron & Budd.
How it started
The lack of immobilizer in affected vehicles spawned viral “Kia Challenge” TikTok videos in 2021, showing that once the steering column on these particular vehicles is broken, they can be started using a USB charging cord as a key. This and other design flaws allow the vehicles to be stolen in less than 90 seconds.
All Hyundai and Kia vehicles built for the 2022 model year onward have engine immobilizers, but that’s little comfort to those with the affected vehicles.
The trend has been linked to eight deaths, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and led to a record number of vehicle thefts last year and led to demand for steering locks that outstripped supply in many areas.
With thefts of older Hyundai and Kia vehicles skyrocketing, Progressive and State Farm Insurance refused to write policies due to their high theft rates. According to research from the Highway Loss Data Institute, between 2015 and 2019, certain vehicles sold by the two automakers were at least twice as likely to be stolen compared to comparable ones from other manufacturers.
But it took both automakers until February 2023 to face the problem. But Hyundai and Kia’s lack of urgency led nearly two dozen state Attorneys Generals to issue a letter to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration calling on the federal government to intervene. Thefts of Hyundai and Kia vehicles exploded as Los Angeles saw Hyundai and Kia thefts jump 85% in 2022, while Minneapolis saw thefts spike 836% last year, and rising 18 times that number since 2023.
“The scope of the problem is only expanding and is exponentially worse than it has been in the past,” Brian O’Hara, the police chief of Minneapolis, said in an email to USA Today. “We have some weeks where nearly as many Kias and Hyundais are stolen in a week as had previously been stolen in a year.”
In fact, Hyundai or Kia vehicles now account for 60% or more of auto theft reports in other U.S. cities, including St. Louis, Missouri, Cleveland, Ohio; San Diego, California; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Columbus, Ohio; Baltimore and Seattle, which have sued the automakers over the thefts.
Where to find help
But help is on the way.
Preliminary court approval for the settlement is expected in July, although for many owners, it can’t come soon enough. Notices will be sent to individual class members following final approval regarding the terms of the settlement.