Max Dorfman, Research Writer, Triple-I
Bargain-priced Kia and Hyundai vehicles have begun being targeted for theft at rates similar to muscle cars and SUVs, the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) has reported, based on an analysis of 2021 insurance claims. The spike is due, in part, to the fact that the models being stolen don’t have electronic immoblizers that stop thieves from bypassing the ignition.
“Car theft spiked during the pandemic,” said Matt Moore, HLDI senior vice president. “These numbers tell us that some vehicles may be targeted because they’re fast or worth a lot of money and others because they’re easy to steal.”
Ignition immobilizers are standard equipment on almost all vehicles of that vintage made by other companies. They were standard on 62 percent of models of other manufacturers in model year 2000. By model year 2015, immobilizers were standard on 96 percent of other vehicles, but were only standard on 26 percent of Hyundai and Kia vehicle models.
“If it doesn’t have an immobilizer, it does make it somewhat easier to steal,” said Darrell Russell, a former auto theft investigator who is now director of operations, vehicles, at the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB).
In Wisconsin, which was affected by these thefts earlier than most, losses from Hyundai-Kia thefts grew more than 30 times from the 2019 level.
Motor vehicle theft continues to be a major issue
In 2020, the FBI found that $7.4 billion was lost to motor vehicle theft, with the average dollar loss per theft at $9,166. A total of 810,400 vehicles were stolen that year. The number of vehicles stolen was up 11.8 percent in 2020, from 724,872 in 2019. The NICB says the pandemic, economic downturn, loss of juvenile outreach programs, and public safety budgetary and resource limitations were key factors in the increase of motor vehicles stolen in 2020.
Preventive measures are important
The NICB recommends a layered approach to prevent vehicles from being stolen that includes:
- Always locking your doors and removing your keys from the ignition;
- Using visible or audible devices, like alarms and steering column brake locks;
- Installing a vehicle immobilizer, like a kill switch or smart key; and
- Investing in a tracking system.