Seattle sues Kia, Hyundai for failing to install anti-theft technology in cars

The City of Seattle has filed a complaint in federal court against Kia and Hyundai for failing to install anti-theft technology in some of their cars, which the city attorney believes has contributed to an "exponential increase" of those vehicle thefts in Seattle.

"From last July to this July, we saw a 625% increase in Kias and Hyundais stolen in the City of Seattle," said Seattle City Attorney Ann Davison.

The lawsuit accuses Kia and Hyundai of endangering the public safety of the entire Seattle community by not installing engine immobilizers in many of their vehicles, as well as not issuing recalls for their older models that lack this technology.

"It's becoming a public nuisance, because they know they have chosen to cut corners and exclude anti-theft technology, which is universal in almost all auto manufacturers," said Davison.

Citywide, motor vehicle theft in Seattle reached a 15-year high in 2022 and the lawsuit states Hyundais and Kias were among the top ten stolen vehicles in Seattle.

The drastic rise in thefts affects all of Seattle, but the lawsuit notes the Northgate, Capitol Hill, Central Area/Squire Park, and North Beacon Hill neighborhoods have been hit particularly hard.

We reached out to both auto manufacturers who sent us these responses:

"Hyundai believes this lawsuit is improper and unnecessary. In response to increasing thefts targeting our vehicles without push-button ignitions and immobilizing anti-theft devices in the United States, Hyundai Motor America has made engine immobilizers standard on all vehicles produced as of November 2021. Additionally, Hyundai has taken a series of actions to deter thefts of affected vehicles, including an upcoming software update scheduled to be available beginning next month and provided at no cost to customers. 

"Hyundai is also providing free steering wheel locks, as available, to select law enforcement agencies across the country, including in the Seattle area, for distribution to local residents who own or lease affected models. Owners may also bring their vehicles to a local Hyundai dealer for the purchase and installation of a customized security kit. We apologize for the inconvenience to affected customers. 

"Hyundai is committed to ensuring the quality and integrity of all our products through continuous improvement. Hyundai quality is among the best in the industry, ranking third among all brands in the 2022 U.S. Vehicle Dependability Study (VDS) and historically above the industry average in J.D. Power’s U.S. Initial Quality Study (IQS)."

Kia issued this statement:

"Kia remains concerned that criminal actors are targeting certain Kia cars with a steel key and "turn-tostart" ignition systems. While no car can be made completely theft-proof, Kia continues to make steering wheel locks available to customers through interested local law enforcement agencies, subject to available supply, at no cost to concerned owners of these vehicles. Kia also continues its efforts to develop additional solutions for vehicles not originally equipped with an immobilizer, including the development and testing of enhanced security software designed to restrict operation of the vehicle’s ignition system. Kia has started notifying owners of certain models of the availability of this software upgrade at no cost, and Kia anticipates that it will make software upgrades available for most affected vehicles over the next few months. All 2022 models and trims have an immobilizer applied either at the beginning of the year or as a running change, and all Kia vehicles meet or exceed Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. It is Kia America’s policy to not comment on pending litigation. Kia customers with questions regarding their Kia vehicle should contact the Kia Consumer Assistance Center directly at 1-800-333-4542 (Kia)."

However, this lawsuit claims wheel locks aren't effective.

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"The important push is to get that recall, so all these vehicles can be fixed and put anti-theft technology in those vehicles for consumers," says Davison.