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Chicago Sues Kia And Hyundai After Over 7,000 Cars Stolen Last Year

Months after the Illinois Attorney General demanded a national recall of the vehicles, the city has filed a suit claiming the automakers' failure to install safety features is putting a strain on the city.

Cars drive northbound on DuSable Lake Shore Drive as air quality remains unhealthy in Chicago’s Kenwood community area on July 25, 2023.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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CHICAGO — As thefts of Kia and Hyundai automobiles continue at a steady pace in Chicago and nationwide, Mayor Brandon Johnson’s administration is suing the automakers.

The city’s complaint claims that Kia and Hyundai failed to equip cars sold between 2011 and 2022 with engine immobilizers, an anti-theft technology. Most car manufacturers made it a standard feature over a decade ago, and the automakers have included it in vehicles sold outside of the country.

Social media videos that showed how to start those car models without a key went viral.

The suit also alleges that Kia and Hyundai deceptively assured consumers these vehicles possessed “advanced” safety features, despite knowledge of the “critical defect and its consequences.” 

“The impact of car theft on Chicago residents can be deeply destabilizing, particularly for low- to middle-income workers who have fewer options for getting to work and taking care of their families,” Johnson said in a statement. “The failure of Kia and Hyundai to install basic auto-theft prevention technology in these models is sheer negligence, and as a result, a citywide and nationwide crime spree around automobile theft has been unfolding right before our eyes.”   

The city aims to reclaim expenses incurred by the city in responding to “the wave of thefts, provide restitution to Chicago owners of affected vehicles, and compel the companies to fix security flaws in affected vehicles,” Law Department spokesperson Kristen Cabanban said.

The suit comes days after a federal judge declined to approve a class action settlement that would’ve offered cash to owners of vehicles prone to theft.

In a statement, Hyundai spokesperson Ira Gabriel said engine immobilizers are standard on cars produced November 2021 and later, and the company is scaling up efforts to help owners whose cars don’t have that push-button ignitions and engine immobilizers.

“Our dealers across the country are maximizing the number of anti-theft software installations that can be performed on a daily basis, contributing to steadily increasing completion rates … Hyundai recently piloted a mobile service center in Washington, D.C. and plans to replicate in additional markets through year-end to further scale and speed installation of the software upgrade,” Gabriel said.

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Mayor Brandon Johnson speaks at his first post City Council meeting press conference on May 24, 2023.

Over 7,000 Kias and Hyundais were stolen from Chicagoans in 2022, prompting Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul to demand a federal recall of the vehicles. Raoul was one of several officials across the country to sign a letter asking the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to take action.

Raoul’s office found the cars possess “easily-bypassed” ignition switches, making them easier to steal. According to the city, Kia and Hyundai thefts account for more than half of all vehicles stolen in Chicago in 2023.  

NPR reported in May that some insurance companies — including Allstate — have even stopped offering coverage to owners of vulnerable Kia and Hyundai vehicles due to the high rate of thefts.

Block Club interviewed several frustrated Kia and Hyundai owners affected by car thefts in August 2022, some wondering if the thefts were connected the viral TikTok videos.

The city is being represented by lawyers from the Affirmative Litigation Division out of its law department.

“Chicago is bearing the cost of Defendants’ unlawful conduct, as it pays for property damage, diverts law enforcement resources, and strives to keep the public safe from harm Defendants could have prevented,” said Corporation Counsel Mary Richardson-Lowry.

In hopes of cutting down the number of thefts, the Cook County Sheriff’s Office issued warnings, encouraging owners of affected cars to install kill switches and fill out a consent form on the department’s website to assist law enforcement agencies with receiving faster cooperation from car makers to track stolen vehicles.

Interim Chicago Police Supt. Fred Waller said the suit is about “saving lives” and preventing the use of the vehicles in more violent crimes.

“As law enforcement, we are doing everything we can to prevent these thefts, but these vehicle companies must also be held accountable,” Waller said.

Chicagoans who own Kias and Hyundais can share their experiences related to the ongoing vehicle thefts via email to the city’s Consumer Protection department:     

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