car thefts

Safety Advocates Say Kia, Hyundai Software Update Isn't Enough

NBC Responds teams around the country have been keeping an eye on the impact of a hidden security risk in certain Hyundai and Kia vehicles that make them easier to steal, impacting millions of drivers.

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Some Hyundai and Kia driver’s cars are eligible for a free anti-theft upgrade, but some safety experts say more should be done.

The rash of thefts across the country started after a trend spread swiftly on social media, something we’ve seen happen right here in Connecticut.

Thieves shared how certain Hyundai and Kia vehicles without standard immobilizers could be stolen.

The immobilizer is the security device that prevents a car from starting without the proper key present.

Last month, the two companies announced they will provide a free software update to deter these thefts, which will lengthen a car alarm from 30 seconds to one minute and requires the key to be in the ignition to turn on the car.

But safety advocates say that doesn’t go far enough, telling NBC that they believe the risk allowing a car to start and run without a key present violates federal safety standards and regulators should have required a recall, which would make the fix mandatory.

“The way it's being done is of significant concern to us because it's not being handled as an official safety recall. It's simply a customer satisfaction campaign,” said Sean Kane, founder and president of Safety Research & Strategies.

Michael Brooks with the Center for Auto Safety agrees. 

“Hyundai and Kia will not be obliged to notify their owners in the same way they would if it was a recall,” Brooks said.

Hyundai told NBC: “The recent rise in thefts of our vehicles without engine immobilizers has been caused by irresponsible social media ‘challenges.’ It is no way indicative that our vehicles are not in compliance with the legal and engineering performance requirements of [federal motor vehicle safety standards].”

Kia also said its vehicles comply with federal standards, adding that since “there is no defect in any of the theft-prevention features on Kia vehicles, a recall is neither appropriate nor warranted under federal law.”

The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) says it will closely monitor the manufacturers' efforts to address the issue.

This week, NHTDA tells us that this theft does not violate a federal motor vehicle safety standard these safety experts were pointing to, FMVSS 114.

The spokesperson says any Kia owners with questions can contact the company at 1-800-333-4KIA (4542) or click here for more information.

Hyundai says the software upgrade will happen in waves beginning with 2017-2020 Elantra, 2015-2019 Sonata, and 2020-2021 Venue vehicles. A spokesperson writes that the upgrade should be available for remaining eligible vehicles by June. For more information, click here.

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