PUYALLUP, Wash. — It’s a story that’s dominated headlines all year, thieves who are typically teenagers use a viral video hack to steal thousands of KIA and Hyundai’s, often using them to commit other crimes.
The carmaker issued a software upgrade it said would fix the problem, but an owner who got that upgrade contacted KIRO 7 said it didn’t work. That owner, Alicia Mendez, said her KIA was stolen in mid-October months — two after getting that upgrade. That upgrade is supposed to require the key to be in the ignition to start the car and include a kill switch to prevent the car from being stolen.
Alicia says even with those measures in place, she watched helplessly as teens drove away in her car.
“I ran downstairs and sure enough and I just started crying I just started bawling like are you serious,” said Alicia.
She didn’t even think someone stealing her car was a possibility after she got that upgrade.
“I went and I got the software anyway because it was going to make me feel better so that’s why my club was in the back seat of my car that day because why? they can’t steal my car,” she said.
In February, when KIA rolled out this upgrade, the head of Corporate Communications, James Bell said this upgrade is the owners’ best defense against thieves.
“So that’s why we have kind of a triple threat, steering wheel locks, this new software, the window stickers, we really think it’s going to address the issue,” said Bell while in the KIRO 7 studio on February 14. He continued to say the stickers were a key in deterring thieves, “we not only do the software upgrade to the car we’re also putting stickers on the back windows that say this vehicle has been given upgraded theft deterrent software. Thieves don’t like to give extra time. if they see something that says hmm gives them pause, they move on.”
Alicia says her sticker didn’t do much, “they seen the sticker, three minutes later my car was gone.”
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says those stolen KIA’s are often used to commit other sometimes violent crimes. The NHTSA linked fourteen crashes and either fatalities to incidents involving stolen KIA’s. The organization also said it knows that’s lowballing. The NHTSA also took an aggregate look at news stories nationwide from June 2021 to October and found much higher numbers with 44 deaths, 126 injuries, and 132 crashes involving stolen KIA’s.
“When they get stolen, I have to pay the $500 deductible, how is that fair? Why, should this all be on me,” said Mendez.
Someone found her car the next day. She brought it to her dealership where she had no choice but to leave with another KIA. It’s a push start and is supposed to be less vulnerable to thefts.
“That was the only way to go was to get out of my lease with that other KIA and then get into this,” she said. Alicia added, “I’m hearing that they’re robbing people at gunpoint for their keys, and it scares me.”
Earlier this week, a federal judge denied the car manufacturer’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the Seattle City Attorney. The multi-district lawsuit, initially filed in January, has about two dozen other districts suing KIA to put standard anti-theft technology in specific models. They’re also suing for damages since the stolen cars are often used in destructive crimes.
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