OAKLAND — California Attorney General Rob Bonta today led a coalition of 18 states calling for a federal recall of Hyundai and Kia vehicles following the companies’ continued failure to take adequate steps to address the alarming rate of theft of their vehicles. The letter, sent to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHSTA), requests NHTSA to institute a recall of unsafe Hyundai and Kia vehicles manufactured between 2011 and 2022 whose easily bypassed ignition switches and lack of engine immobilizers make them particularly vulnerable to theft. In March 2023, a coalition of attorneys general urged the companies to take stronger steps to address the safety concerns of their vehicles. This letter now calls on the federal government to step in, as the vehicles’ systems remain out of compliance with federal standards and pose an unreasonable risk to public safety, and the companies have failed to address these safety issues.
“The bottom line is, Kia’s and Hyundai’s failure to install standard safety features on many of their vehicles have put vehicle owners and the public at risk,” said Attorney General Bonta. “Instead of taking responsibility with appropriate corrective action, these carmakers have chosen instead to pass this risk onto consumers and our communities. It is unacceptable that families and communities should be forced to shoulder the cost of Kia’s and Hyundai’s failures. Kia and Hyundai have failed to appropriately address these safety issues, ignoring urgent requests from states, law enforcement, and car buyers. We now ask the federal government to require these companies to correct their mistake through a nationwide recall and help us in our continued efforts to protect the public from these unsafe vehicles.”
Between 2011 and 2022, the companies chose not to include anti-theft devices that were a standard feature in almost every other new car manufactured during that time period, including the same Hyundai and Kia models sold in Canada and Europe. Hyundai and Kia owners now face unnecessary risk of having their vehicles stolen, as well as related concerns, like struggling to obtain insurance for the affected vehicles.
These vehicles have been stolen at high rates since approximately 2021, harming consumers and contributing to an erosion of public safety. The thefts have frequently been accompanied by reckless driving and further criminal activity, causing injuries and deaths. The thefts have even gone viral, with videos on social media showing how to hotwire these vehicles and challenging others to steal them. Following these videos, thefts began surging across the country. In Los Angeles, for instance, thefts of Hyundai and Kia cars increased by approximately 85% in 2022 and constituted approximately 20% of stolen cars in Los Angeles in 2022, up from 13% in 2021. Similarly, in Berkeley, California, thefts of these cars have made up 38% of vehicle thefts since the end of 2022.
The thefts have taken scarce resources from local law enforcement and first responders, who have had to increase patrols and spend time responding to the thefts, distribute antitheft devices such as steering wheels locks, and alert the public to the dangerous trend. Hyundai and Kia vehicles stolen in this manner have resulted in numerous crashes and at least eight fatalities nationwide, and the stolen vehicles have also been used to commit additional, sometimes violent, crimes.
The coalition asserts that Kia and Hyundai have not gone far enough in their attempts to remedy their vehicles’ vulnerability to theft. While the companies have offered a software upgrade, this upgrade will not be available for many affected vehicles until June and for some 2011-2022 models cannot be installed at all. Vehicle owners who cannot receive the software upgrade can reportedly receive a free steering wheel lock from Kia and Hyundai, but this places additional burdens on owners and does not address the underlying ignition system flaw that makes the vehicles so vulnerable to theft. Many owners have contacted NHTSA for assistance with this theft issue.
In the letter, the states urge NHTSA to take immediate action by instituting a recall of the unsafe Hyundai and Kia vehicles because:
Attorney General Bonta leads the attorneys general of Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia in filing the letter. A copy of the letter to NHTSA can be found here.