The City of Buffalo announced last week that it has filed a lawsuit against the car manufacturers, Kia America Inc., and Hyundai Motor America, over defects in both manufactures’ vehicles that led to an increase in auto thefts.
The Buffalo Police Department reported a 2,000% increase in thefts of Kia and Hyundai vehicles in January of 2023 compared to January of 2022. This dramatic increase in thefts is due, in part, to two separate but related issues. The first issue is a lack of a key safety feature called an engine immobilizer made by the two manufacturers with the same parent company.
An engine immobilizer offers a cheap way to protect vehicles from being hotwired and stolen, making it common in almost all vehicles sold in the last 20 years. The engine immobilizer prevents the vehicle from starting without using the correct key, resulting in 96% of auto manufacturers including them in vehicles. Only 26% of vehicles made by the two manufacturers under scrutiny include the safety feature—resulting in higher rates of vehicle theft.
Why is this an issue now?
How does a security defect that has been around for at least seven years suddenly lead to a rash of auto thefts? The answer to that question is the second issue: TikTok. Users of the popular social-media app have made videos showing how to steal one of these vehicles using nothing more than a screwdriver and USB cord.
While the issue may seem silly, there have been tragic consequences for some who have tired to recreate this TikTok challenge. In October of 2022 four people—all younger than 20—were killed in a crash in Buffalo in which a stolen Kia was involved.
The City of Buffalo is accusing the two car manufactures of cutting corners and filed this lawsuit to force Hyundai and Kia to fix the cars and address the effects of the crime wave that their failure to install the technology caused in the first place.
Buffalo is one of several cities, including Seattle, Cleveland, Cincinnati, and St. Louis to file suit against Kai and Hyundai.