Kia, Hyundai among models insurers refusing to cover over high-theft risk

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

(NEW YORK) — Depending on where they live, owners of certain Hyundai and Kia models may have a hard time insuring their vehicles due to the cars’ high incidence of theft.

State Farm and Progressive are refusing to insure vehicles in certain states over the rising rate of theft, caused primarily by the absence of technology known as an engine immobilizer – a redundancy system that pairs a vehicle’s key fob to the car’s internal computer. When a drivers insert a key into some cars’ ignition, a chip in the key fob sends a signal to the vehicle, confirming that it is safe to start the engine. If the signal isn’t transmitted, the technology is supposed to “immobilize” the car: the engine won’t start and, in some cases, the steering wheel will lock itself in place.

Certain Hyundai and Kia models manufactured before the 2022 model year didn’t come with immobilizers. According to the Highway Loss and Data Institute, 96% of cars made between 2015 and 2019 had immobilizers as standard equipment, but only 26% of Hyundai and Kia vehicles had them.

Thieves have targeted lower-trim versions of certain Hyundai Motor Group vehicles, such as Hyundai’s Elantra and Santa Fe, and Kia’s Soul, Seltos and Forte vehicles, according to the HLDI..

In recent years, videos posted to social media have explained how to break into the cars and take them for joyrides. According to the videos, something as simple as a USB cable – often already stashed in the car – is all it takes for thieves to start the vehicle.

The thefts have arisen as the Hyundai Motor Group, which comprises Hyundai, Kia and the Genesis luxury brand, is coming off several years of critical and financial success. Kia’s electric SUV, the EV6, was named the North American Utility of the Year for 2023. The Genesis G90, a full-size luxury sedan designed to challenge the Mercedes Benz S-Class and the Lexus LS, recently notched Motor Trend’s Car of the Year award. The magazine also awarded Hyundai’s Ioniq 5 its SUV of the Year prize. According to the International Organization of Motor Vehicle Manufacturers, Hyundai Motors is the third largest automaker in the world in terms of vehicle production, behind only Toyota and Volkswagen.

State Farm calls the thefts a “serious problem” that affects the “entire auto insurance industry.” Progressive did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

In a statement, Hyundai and Kia both say they “regret” insurers’ decision and anticipate it will be temporary. Both companies also say they are working on a software update for affected vehicles, which they are planning to make available by the middle of this year. As of the 2022 model year, all Hyundai and Kia models come standard with engine immobilizers.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.