Maryland Attorney General Anthony G. Brown joined 17 other local prosecutors in calling on the federal government to issue a recall for particular Hyundai and Kia vehicles models that have been stolen at increased rates within the past year.

In a letter to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, prosecutors say they want the federal agency to declare the vehicles’ systems are out of compliance with federal standards and pose an unreasonable risk to public safety.

Following a viral TikTok challenge, people known as “Kia Boys” have been able to make off with some models of Kias and Hyundais made between 2010 and 2021 using only a screwdriver and a USB charging cord. Maryland State Police have seen thefts of vehicles from those automakers rise nearly 50% over the past year.

The letter says the companies have failed to update a security flaw that makes the vehicles particularly vulnerable to theft. The push-to-start ignitions are easily bypassed and the models lack engine immobilizers, the prosecutors said.

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“Car manufacturers failing to adequately address serious public safety concerns is completely unacceptable,” Brown said in a statement. “There is a problem with these particular Hyundai and Kia vehicles that puts lives at risk and has even resulted in multiple deaths. These companies must be held responsible for fixing the safety problem without putting the burden to do so on the cars’ owners.”

Hyundai and Kia chose not to include anti-theft devices that were a standard feature in almost every other new car manufactured during 2011 and 2022, the letter said.

In a previous statement to The Baltimore Banner in late March, Hyundai said it has launched a free software upgrade to prevent the type of theft popularized on social media.

“To date, Hyundai has contacted more than a million owners and leases of Hyundai vehicles with information on the software update. We have also initiated a program to begin reimbursement to eligible customers for their purchase of steering wheel locks. Hyundai has shipped more than 40,000 steering wheel locks to more than 370 law enforcement agencies and will continue to provide free steering wheel locks to them for distribution to residents who own or lease affected models,” the company said.

Hyundai Motor Group acquired Kia in 1998, a year after the latter company filed for bankruptcy, but the two automakers operate independently. Kia has also begun to roll out a software update.

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Prosecutors said in their letter that the software updates are an “insufficient response to the problem” and do “not adequately remedy the safety concerns.”

Hyundai and Kia owners now face unnecessary risk of having their vehicles stolen and have difficulty obtaining insurance for the affected vehicles, according to Brown.

“Even if the vehicle is stolen while the owner is safely away from their car, the disruption to their quality of life is real,” he said. ”The time lost from work, the money spent to replace their vehicle or fix damages, even the stress of trying to find alternate transportation to get to work, school, appointments, it is all a load these owners should not have to bear, nor endure.”

Penelope Blackwell is a Breaking News/Accountability reporter with The Banner. Previously, she covered local government in Durham, NC, for The News & Observer. She received her bachelor’s degree in journalism from Morgan State University and her master’s in journalism from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. 

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