It has been nearly a year since a security flaw inside many Hyundai and Kia vehicles was exposed, leading to an explosion in thefts nationwide, and the trouble from that still persists.
Accidents, injuries and tragically, deaths tied to accidents involving stolen Hyundai and Kia vehicles continue to climb, including a West Garfield Park crash where a 6-month-old child was killed, forever changing one family’s life.
Weeks after more than a dozen states pushed for both automakers and federal regulators to enforce a safety recall of these vehicles, auto safety advocates are formally petitioning the government to update its vehicle safety standards, in order to prevent this kind of situation from happening again.
The problems for certain vehicle owners started last May, after a series of social media videos exposed the fact that many Hyundai and Kia cars made from 2011 to 2021 lacked a standard piece of anti-theft technology, which prevents a vehicle from starting without a key present.
The videos went viral, and so did reports of Hyundai and Kia thefts to police departments nationwide.
Here in Chicago, thefts increased by more than 890% in the six months following the date when these videos circulated, amounting to tens of thousands of cars stolen, according to records analyzed by NBC 5 Responds.
Simone Gatlin, a suburban licensed childcare professional says her 2019 Kia Sorrento’s security flaw is top-of-mind, every time she leaves for work or to run an errand.
“It’s just been a terrible ordeal,” she told NBC 5 Responds.
Last December, Gatlin’s Kia was broken into and thieves tried to get away with it before a good Samaritan stepped in and scared them off.
The incident left Gatlin and her family feeling rattled.
“I use this vehicle every day to transport my daycare children,” Gatlin said. “My daycare babies, they’re worried. They ask me all the time, ‘Ms. Simone? Are they going to try to steal your car again?’”
Simone is among the millions of Hyundai and Kia owners waiting for a fix.
Both Hyundai and Kia announced in February a software upgrade that they believe will fix the auto-theft flaw, but for remote start vehicles like Simone’s, Kia told her the upgrade isn’t available.
James Bell, a spokesperson for Kia, told NBC 5 Responds on Monday that the company expects its “comprehensive software upgrade program to include remote start vehicles within the next few weeks.”
In the meantime, Bell said remote start Kia vehicle owners can contact the automaker for a steering wheel lock.
While Gatlin waits for the upgrade, her SUV is still at-risk, and that’s why auto safety advocates feel the automakers and federal regulators should be doing more.
“The regulators have done a poor job here at ensuring the safety of Hyundai and Kia owners,” said Sean Kane of Safety Research & Strategies, Inc.
Despite how it was advertised, Kane and others say the software upgrade is not an immediate fix.
In the last two months, Kane’s organization has found stolen Hyundai and Kia vehicles were involved in at least 24 accidents nationwide, which resulted in 28 injuries and four deaths.
That includes an accident last month in West Garfield Park, after a stolen Hyundai collided with a family’s pick-up truck, killing a six-month-old child and seriously injuring others.
It’s unclear if the Hyundai involved in that accident had the anti-theft software upgrade or not.
Kane’s organization, as well as the attorneys general in 17 states, including Illinois, say these vehicles’ “vulnerability to theft constitutes a defect posing an unreasonable risk to safety,” which violates federal safety standards, and as a result, should be recalled versus the automakers offering a voluntary software upgrade to owners.
Kane added, “To fix that problem with simply a customer satisfaction campaign – that doesn’t have the same requirements as a formal safety recall – is problematic.”
Both Hyundai and Kia have said its vehicles “comply fully with all federal standards,” and that there is no defect in these vehicles.
“Because there is no defect in [these vehicles’] security features… a recall is neither appropriate nor necessary under federal law,” a spokesperson for Kia wrote. One standard at the center of this debate – Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 114 or FMVSS 114 – mandates all vehicles sold in the U.S. should not be able to start without a key present.
A potential solution is on its way for millions of Hyundai and Kia drivers whose vehicles are more vulnerable to theft, but safety advocates believe the free fix may have come too late and doesn’t go far enough. Lexi Sutter has the story.
As written, Kane said regulators with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have been unable to enforce this standard.
“If the regulators have decided that they can’t enforce a rule that’s been on the books for more than 40 years, then it’s time to start looking at what they need to do to upgrade that,” Kane said.
That’s why his organization recently filed a petition with the NHTSA to update their rules.
NHTSA told NBC 5 Responds, “As is the agency’s standard practice in such matters, NHTSA will carefully review the petition and relevant data. Should the agency grant the petition, it would commence a rulemaking proceeding. Should the agency deny the petition, a denial would be published in the Federal Register.”
Drivers like Gatlin believe something has to change.
“Honestly, I don’t feel like they have our back,” Gatlin said. “Especially in this time, with the economy, they have to do something to protect us.”
Hyundai Software Upgrade Information
Hyundai customers with their Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) can use an online tool at this website here to see if they are eligible to schedule their upgrade.
Hyundai has also offered some insurance options for drivers of vehicles impacted by the theft crisis. To learn more about that, click here.
Kia Software Upgrade Information
Kia owners can search their VIN using this online tool on Kia’s website linked here to find out if and when their vehicle is eligible for the free software upgrade.