Max Dorfman, Research Writer, Triple-I
Low-cost Kia and Hyundai vehicles have begun to be stolen at prices similar to muscle cars and SUVs, the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) has reported, based on an analysis of insurance claims in 2021. The spike is due in part to the fact that the models being stolen are not has electronic immobilizers that prevent thieves from bypassing the ignition.
“Car theft increased during the pandemic,” said Matt Moore, HLDI senior vice president. “These numbers tell us that some vehicles may be targeted because they are fast or worth a lot of money and others because they are easy to steal.”
Immobilizers are standard equipment on almost all vehicles of that vintage made by other companies. They were standard on 62 percent of models from other manufacturers during the 2000 model year. By model year 2015, immobilizers were standard on 96 percent of other vehicles, but were standard on only 26 percent of Hyundai and Kia vehicle models.
“If it doesn’t have an immobilizer, it makes it a little 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 hit by these thefts earlier than most, losses from Hyundai-Kia thefts increased more than 30 times from 2019 levels.
Motor vehicle theft continues to be a major problem
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 stolen vehicles increased 11.8 percent in 2020, from 724,872 in 2019. The NICB says the pandemic, the economic downturn, the loss of youth outreach programs, and public safety budget and resource constraints were key factors in the increase in the number of stolen motor vehicles in 2020.
Preventive measures are important
The NICB recommends a layered strategy to prevent vehicle theft that includes:
- Always lock your doors and remove your keys from the ignition;
- Using visible or audible devices, such as alarms and steering column brake locks;
- Install a vehicle immobilizer, such as a kill switch or smart key; and
- Invest in a tracking system.