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Car thefts prompt class action

Minnesota man claims stolen Kia lacked security feature

Laura Brown//September 16, 2022

A Kia sign stands over a row of unsold cars

A Kia sign stands over a row of unsold cars at a dealership in Centennial, Colorado, in this Dec. 20, 2020, photo. Class actions against Kia and Hyundai have been filed across the country, claiming inadequate theft protection. (AP file photo: David Zalubowski)

Car thefts prompt class action

Minnesota man claims stolen Kia lacked security feature

Laura Brown//September 16, 2022

A Minnesota man has filed a class action lawsuit following the theft of his car. It is the latest class action lawsuit filed against Kia and Hyundai as a result of the high number of thefts of those vehicles.

Steve Zanmiller purchased a 2020 Kia Sportage. At the time he purchased it, he was unaware that the car did not have an engine immobilizer. According to the complaint, the Sportage was represented as having an engine immobilizer. The Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 114, S.5.1.1 requires that vehicles have a starting system that prevents activation of the vehicle’s engine or motor when the key is removed from the starting system.

A car engine immobilizer is an electronic security device that uses an electronic chip to prevent a car from being hot-wired by someone without a key. The engine control unit will not activate the ignition circuit if the code in the key and the code stored in the immobilizer do not match. Immobilizers have been around for the last few decades. Even if a thief was able to copy the key, the car would not start because the chip was not paired with the vehicle.

Zanmiller’s vehicle was stolen in July. It was later recovered, but it was deemed to be a total loss. Zanmiller alleges violations of the Minnesota Deceptive Trade Practices Act. He is seeking damages, as well as to enjoin the defendants from selling vehicles that are easily stolen and ordering them to replace or fix the vehicles.

Zanmiller is being represented by Jed Chronic, partner at Mascha, Riedy, Ries & Frentz. Chronic is working with the Kansas City, Missouri, firm of Humphrey, Farrington & McClain on these claims.

“Outside of buying a house – a car is the next biggest purchase people make. Some of these cars do not carry insurance that will cover theft — so having a car stolen can be devastating to a family,” Chronic said. “The number of car thefts are taxing police department resources. People are having their insurance dropped and insurance premiums on these cars will go up.”

Similar class actions against Kia and Hyundai have been filed across the country. While Milwaukee was the original hub of the thefts starting in 2021, thefts of Kias and Hyundais have spread to cities across America. In 2022, the St. Paul Police Department reported that Kia thefts were up a whopping 1,300%. Hyundai thefts were also up 584% this year.

Stealing one of these cars only requires a thief to use a screwdriver to remove the steering column cover and dismantle the key slot. From there, they can use a basic USB cable to turn the ignition tumbler and start the car. The entire process can be done in under a minute.

Social media has also contributed to the thefts. A viral video on TikTok taught viewers a hack to steal the vehicles and issued a “challenge” to others to steal the cars. While the original video has been deleted, the theft technique is still available on the internet. Kids across the country have aspired to be part of the “Kia Boyz” trend, stealing the cars and subsequently taking them for joyrides. These rides are filmed and posted onto the internet. In July 2022, a 70-year-old St. Paul woman was killed by a 15-year-old driving a stolen Kia Sportage.

Kia issued a statement in response to the slew of class actions filed against them:

“Kia America is aware of the rise in vehicle thefts of a subset of trim levels. All 2022 models and trims have an immobilizer applied either at the beginning of the year or as a running change. All Kia vehicles for sale in the U.S. meet or exceed Federal motor Vehicle Safety Standards.”

However, Chronic disputes that Kia is addressing this issue.

“They are wanting to sell people an aftermarket part that they can have installed at a cost of several hundred dollars. They are going to fix the new cars going forward but are not offering to do anything for cars already on the road,” Chronic said.

Chronic also says that Kia is also working to provide police departments with “The Club” steering wheel locks. “These are not effective at preventing thefts in the same way an engine immobilizer can, and my co-counsel has spoken to several people that had a ‘club’ installed and it was cut off the steering wheel,” Chronic said.

The scope of the problem is yet unknown. Chronic says that in 2021 alone, Kia sold around 500,000 vehicles while Hyundai sold 725,000. It is unclear how many were manufactured without the immobilizer.

Chronic maintains that the decision to not include the immobilizer was done knowingly and was purely for financial gain. He also alleges that this is a problem that is specific to Kia and Hyundai.

“If this was not a problem unique to Kia and Hyundai cars then the data would show similar increases along all car manufacturers – but the numbers for cars made by these two companies are through the roof all over the country,” Chronic maintained.

RELATED: The POWER 30: Jed Chronic

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