The car can be gone in as little as 30 seconds. The joyride can span hours. And once the damage is done, authorities typically locate the vehicles days later.
It’s the start of what has become a months-long process for mechanics like Tino Bertin, who say repair work is reaching a point of no return due to stolen Kia and Hyundai cars.
On average, one or two stolen Kia or Hyundai vehicles — now recovered by their owners — have gotten delivered to Bertin’s repair shop in Northeast Baltimore every week since April, he said. His repair times have slowed due to the influx, he said, taking time away to work on other cars.
“Yeah, because I have to figure out how bad it is and then wait on the parts, and they’re [parts manufacturers] so backed up,” Bertin said.
Even Kia or Hyundai models that end up on his lot are being targeted and totaled, he said.
In early October, a customer dropped off a dark-purple 2012 Hyundai Sonata for a new engine. A week before the engine was expected to arrive, he got to work and found the backseat passenger window broken and the wires from the car’s ignition hanging out under the steering wheel.
“I left the car unlocked. I even wrote on the window ‘NEED BELT CAN’T START,’ and they still smashed the window and ripped out the ignition,” Bertin said.
It was not the first time someone has tried to steal a Hyundai or Kia off his lot. Bertin said that depending on how “hard” the ignition’s lock cylinders and missing interior plastics are ripped, it’ll cost at least $1,000 for him and his team to fix the vehicle. In some cases, like the Sonata, the steering wheel column can’t be replaced, making the car undrivable.
He has owned Tino Auto Service and Sales for nearly a decade, but said he’s never seen young people so emboldened to steal cars, despite his attempts to deter them. “The kids just don’t care,” he said.
Of the 600 stolen-auto arrests in Baltimore this year, over 200 were juveniles, with 77 of them in robbery and carjacking arrests, city data shows.
“We have motion-sensing cameras. The police are doing nothing. I don’t know why they keep trying. … They can’t go anywhere,” Bertin said.