PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Philadelphia City Councilmember Kendra Brooks has joined a group of elected leaders from around the country, demanding a federal recall of Kia and Hyundai vehicles over the alarming theft rate nationwide.
Kia thefts increased by almost 800% and Hyundai thefts increased by more than 400% from 2019 to 2022.
Authorities say thieves have been able to use a USB cable to start certain Hyundais and Kias, which gained national attention on the social media platform TikTok.
The car makers have been offering software upgrades and wheel locks since last year, but Councilmember Brooks and others are now demanding further action to protect consumers.
"A stolen car can mean the difference between keeping a job and losing a job. And Philadelphia car theft is skyrocketing and Kia and Hyundais account for more than 60% of the problem. And working families should not be the ones bearing the burden for mistakes made by manufacturers of these cars," Brooks said during a virtual press conference on Wednesday.
Brooks, along with seven other elected leaders from across the country who make up the Councilmembers Against Car Thefts (CACTs), is now calling on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to issue a recall.
CACTs says these crimes are putting a burden on local law enforcement and that the software upgrades and wheel locks that were offered last year were welcome, but were insufficient.
You might remember Antonette Cook. Last spring she showed us how she had to start her SUV.
Cook told Action News her Kia Sportage L was broken into after she had updated its software that was supposed to extend the duration of the theft alarm.
"No alarm went off whatsoever," she said.
At the time, Cook said she believed if not for her neighbor scaring them off, the thieves would have taken off with her vehicle.
"Just here in Philadelphia, 21,000 vehicles were stolen in 2023 and it's 10 times higher than any other number of vehicles stolen over the last few years since 2017," said Councilmember Brooks. "A stolen car can prevent someone from getting back and forth to work, the expense of you know, repairing that car is an expense and a burden on families, they already do not have the money."
In a statement, Hyundai says it "is committed to continuing our efforts in completing the software upgrade for all affected vehicles in the most effective manner possible. We are communicating with NHTSA on our many actions to assist our customers."
Hyundai Motor America is committed to ensuring the quality and integrity of our products. A subset of Hyundai vehicles on the road in the U.S. today - primarily "base trim" or entry-level models - are not equipped with push-button ignitions and immobilizing anti-theft devices. It is important to clarify that an engine immobilizer is an anti-theft device and these vehicles are fully compliant with federal anti-theft requirements. Thieves discovered a specific method by which to bypass the vehicles' security features and then documented and promoted their exploits on TikTok and other social media channels.
In response, Hyundai has taken comprehensive action to assist our customers, including: (1) Made engine immobilizers standard on all vehicles produced as of November 2021; (2) Developed a software upgrade to equip these vehicles with an "ignition kill" feature designed to prevent the popularized method of theft; (3) Rolled out the free anti-theft software upgrade to all of the nearly 4 million vehicles involved - two months ahead of the original schedule - through a service campaign to affected customers who own or lease model year 2011-2022 vehicles; (4) Launched a dedicated website HyundaiAntiTheft.com, toll-free number (888) 498-0390 and digital advertising to generate awareness of the software upgrade, help customers determine their eligibility, and schedule an appointment at their local Hyundai dealership; (5) Initiated a program to reimburse affected customers for their purchase of steering wheel locks, including for a smaller group of 2011-2022 model year vehicles that cannot accommodate the software upgrade; (6) Established a program to provide free steering wheel locks to law enforcement agencies across the country for distribution to local residents who own or lease the affected vehicles; (7) Collaborated with AAA insurers on a program to offer insurance options for affected owners and lessees. As part of this collaboration, AAA insurers will issue new and renewal policies for eligible affected Hyundai customers. The program will be available in all states with the exception of those states where AAA does not offer insurance. (e.g., Alaska, , Massachusetts, Washington); (8) Recently piloted mobile service centers in Washington, D.C., St. Louis County, MO, New York City, Chicago, Minneapolis, St. Paul, upstate New York and Baltimore with plans to replicate in additional markets to further scale and speed installation of the software upgrade.
Hyundai is committed to continuing our efforts in completing the software upgrade for all affected vehicles in the most effective manner possible. We are communicating with NHTSA on our many actions to assist our customers.
"Kia continues to take comprehensive action to both support our customers and work with law enforcement in response to this situation that has been created by criminals using methods of theft promoted and popularized on social media to steal or attempt to steal certain vehicle models.
We're continuing to strongly encourage eligible customers to receive the software upgrade that we developed and rolled out last year that is designed to restrict the operation of the vehicle's ignition system should a potential criminal attempt to steal a locked vehicle without the key. To date, more than 988,000 Kia vehicles nationwide have received the upgrade and we continue to spread awareness about its availability by establishing a dedicated website with detailed information, hosting off-site events in multiple cities to make it easier for eligible customers to receive the upgrade, and partnering with Carfax to inform owners that their vehicle is eligible for the upgrade.
We also continue to provide steering wheel locks to owners of impacted vehicles that are not eligible for the software upgrade at no cost to them. These free steering wheel locks further enhance a vehicle's security and can serve as a theft-deterrent for potential car thieves. Kia customers can obtain free, Kia-provided locks through their local law enforcement or they can request a steering wheel lock from Kia directly through the dedicated website. To date, we have distributed more than 327,000 locks and we will continue to provide them as they are needed. We also recently developed and introduced a new hardware modification designed for the vehicles that are not eligible for the software upgrade that works to combat theft by reinforcing the ignition cylinder body and preventing its removal through the method of theft promoted in videos that have spread across social media encouraging criminal activity. Finally, we announced an agreement last year that will allow customers who have been impacted by vehicle thefts to receive additional benefits and we're confident that the individuals who have been affected will soon be able to access these benefits.
Like all Kia vehicles, these specific models include a number of security mechanisms designed to guard against theft and are subject to and comply fully with the requirements outlined in applicable Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, including FMVSS 114 that governs theft protection measures. Additionally, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has already rejected a similar recall request from 18 state Attorneys General and publicly stated that it has not determined at this time that this issue constitutes either a safety defect or non-compliance requiring a recall under the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act. We will continue to work cooperatively with the agency to uphold vehicle security."
Kia also continues to work with law enforcement agencies across federal, state, and local levels to combat car theft and the role social media has played in encouraging it, and we remain fully committed to supporting our customers."