ST. LOUIS (KTVI) – St. Louis city officials have sent letters to Kia and Hyundai chastising the car manufacturers for not implementing a safety feature that would make their cars more difficult to steal.
City officials say it’s no secret that thieves are targeting Kias and Hyundais. Some have even posted their actions on on social media, showcasing a technique in which they break away the lower cover of the steering column, exposing a slot. Then they slide the end of a USB cable into the slot, using it as a makeshift key.
Kia and Hyundai key-start vehicles (Kia model years 2011-2021/Hyundai years 2016-2021) lack common technology which uses “smart keys” synced to an engine immobilizer to prevent theft.
St. Louis City Counselor Sheena Hamilton, the city’s top legal officer, told Kia and Hyundai that city police have reported more than 1,500 thefts or attempted thefts of their vehicles so far this year, with 356 coming in the first 13 days of August. Kia and Hyundai thefts alone account for nearly 77% of all vehicles stolen in 2022, according to the city.
Hamilton’s letter threatens legal action if Kia and Hyundai refuse to act within 30 days.
St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones and Director of Public Safety Dan Isom signed off on the letter to the car makers, saying the companies are contributing to a public nuisance in the city.
“The (City of St. Louis) demands that Kia and Hyundai mitigate the defective conditions providing thieves the ability to steal cars, destroy property, endanger city drivers and themselves, and in some cases committing very violent crimes,” said Isom.
Theft victims applaud the letter but say the city also needs to crack down on crime.
College sophomore Ben Siemer even installed a new feature on his new 2023 Hyundai Elantra: a steering wheel lock. He wishes he had it three weeks ago, so he could’ve used it on his previous vehicle.
“My mom got up at 6 a.m., woke me up, and said my car was gone,” Siemer said. “It wasn’t a good morning.”
That stolen car ended up crashed and totaled. His new 2023 Elantra is a replacement.
Jim Hayes had his 2013 Kia Optima stolen a few blocks from where Siemer’s was taken in south St. Louis. His car was found, but he’s still awaiting ignition repairs nearly one month after the crime.
“This is ridiculous. What’s the city coming to?” Hayes said.
Police officers, meanwhile, say the city’s Anti-Crime Task Force has been cut by more than a third, making it more difficult to prevent these kinds of thefts. But officials say they’re working on a solution.
Monte Chambers, of the St. Louis Department of Public Safety, said the department is “consistently” in contact with St. Louis police to address the issue.
“The safety and security of St. Louis residents and visitors is the Department’s top priority, and the uptick in Kia and Hyundai thefts has consumed a significant amount of police time and resources,” Chambers wrote, in part. “SLMPD’s weekend cruising detail is implemented using data-driven strategies to deter crime and deploy resources effectively in key areas. Public safety and police leaders meet consistently to discuss the most efficient ways to combat violent crime trends, including Kia and Hyundai thefts.”
You can read the city’s letter below in its entirety.