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Is your car where you left it? Kia and Hyundai thefts in Missouri have skyrocketed

Overland Park set a stolen car record in 2020. Many cities in Johnson County saw a spike last year near 40%. Police say too often people simply leave their keys or key fob in their cars.
Carlos Moreno/KCUR 89.3
Overland Park set a stolen car record in 2020. Many cities in Johnson County saw a spike last year near 40%. Police say too often people simply leave their keys or key fob in their cars.

Across the country, the number of stolen Kias and Hyundais have skyrocketed, but nowhere more so than in Missouri.

In 2019, 1,207 Kias and Hyundais were stolen in Missouri, according to data from the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NIBC). Last year, that number soared to 6,120.

The pace of stolen Kias and Hyundais really picked up in the second half of 2022. NIBC data shows that 1,255 Kias and Hyundais were stolen in the first six months in Missouri. In the second half of the year, there were 4,865 thefts, a 288% jump.

“That’s unprecedented,” said Scott Holeman, the Midwest spokesman for the Insurance Information Institute.

The problem is so bad that two major insurance companies have ceased writing new policies for Kias and Hyundais built before 2023.

'A crime trend can spread like wildfire'

Investigators blame the spike on thefts on social media.

“The YouTube series with ‘Kia Boys’ showed anyone who wanted to watch the video how easy that theft can be done and accomplished,” Missouri State Highway Patrol Cpl. Nate Bradley told KCUR.

Bradley says it’s easy to steal Kias and Hyundais made between 2011 and 2022. Cars that use a remote key fob to start the car are harder to steal. But the two vehicle makes are vulnerable if they use traditional keys — all you need is a screwdriver and a USB cable.

There are other videos that show people stealing Kias and Hyundais, but the Kia Boys are among the most popular. One video posted in November 2022 has 6.3 million views. Another video with millions of views shows the Kia Boys driving recklessly through a school sidewalk, crashing into trees and fire hydrants and in police chases.

“When you've got such easy platforms to spread the word across the country, then a crime trend can spread like wildfire,” Bradley said.

St. Louis is one of the nation's hotspots for car thefts. Last year, St. Louis Metropolitan Police and St. Louis County Police together reported 3,320 stolen Kias and Hyundais. There were dozens more in parts of St. Louis county policed by other agencies.

The trend was slower to spread to Kansas City. KCPD reported 335 of the targeted cars were stolen last year – 37 in the first quarter of 2022 and 192 in the last quarter.

Too big a risk for insurance companies

Both Progressive and State Farm say they stopped writing new policies for Kias and Hyundais built before 2023 because so many of the cars are getting stolen.

“During the past year we’ve seen theft rates for certain Hyundai and Kia vehicles more than triple and in some markets these vehicles are almost 20 times more likely to be stolen than other vehicles,” Progressive said in a statement to KCUR.

Both companies say they are not canceling coverage — just not writing new policies.

“This is a serious problem impacting our customers and the entire auto insurance industry,” State Farm said in its statement. “It became necessary to take action to protect our policyholders and our business.”

Holeman, from the Insurance Information Institute, said it’s unusual for insurance companies to step back from writing policies.

“You know how competitive the insurance business is,” he said.

Bradley said this rash of Kia and Hyundai thefts is also driving up the epidemic of catalytic converter thefts.

“If they can steal the car easily, take it to a secluded area where they have time to cut the converters off and get access to them, then they will,” Bradley said.

A class action lawsuit against Kia and Hyundai was filed in August in Iowa and consolidated with other lawsuits and moved to California federal court late last year. The suit alleges the companies violated the Federal Motor Safety Standards by not installing engine immobilizers, a device that has been used by car makers for over 20 years.

“Defendants knew their vehicles were defective in this manner but failed and refused to disclose these defects to customers, despite having the capability and means to do so,” according to the lawsuit.

KTLA in Los Angelesreported that the California lawyer leading the litigation says it would cost the companies about $500 per vehicle to fix the problem. But with 10 million cars without the immobilizer, that would be a $5 billion recall, according to the station.

Kia and Hyundai declined to comment on pending litigation.

Because class action lawsuits can take years to settle, Bradley says vehicle owners shouldn’t expect help from the companies anytime soon.

“This is a huge crime problem and it's not going to go away,” Bradley from the Highway Patrol said.

For people who own Kias and Hyundais produced before 2022, Bradley suggests installing a car kill switch or buying a steering wheel lock.

Copyright 2023 KCUR 89.3. To see more, visit KCUR 89.3.

Sam grew up in Overland Park and was educated at the University of Kansas. After working in Philadelphia where he covered organized crime, politics and political corruption he moved on to TV news management jobs in Minneapolis and St. Louis. Sam came home in 2013 and covered health care and education at KCPT. He came to work at KCUR in 2014. Sam has a national news and documentary Emmy for an investigation into the federal Bureau of Prisons and how it puts unescorted inmates on Grayhound and Trailways buses to move them to different prisons. Sam has one son and is pretty good in the kitchen.