St. Louis Sues Kia, Hyundai Amid Rise in Car Thefts


Akhila Swarna

Hyundai and Kia brand cars have been stolen at drastically increasing rates around the St. Louis area due to a weakness in their software and security systems. As a result, the unit growth rate for Hyundais and Kias decreased by nearly 16% from 2022 to 2023.

By David Moss, Marquette High School

Late last February, Matt Shockley, father of Layla Shockley, sophomore, parked his Hyundai Sonata overnight at a hotel in Independence, Missouri. When he went to his car the next morning, there was someone in it.

“I banged on the driver’s side window, and he looked up at me and immediately took off,” Matt said.

Eight days later, the vehicle was found stripped of parts, ravaged by fire and utterly destroyed.

“Some cars are notoriously known for being able to steal,” Layla said.

This yellow device, called a club, prevents car theft by blocking the steering wheel from turning. Tracy Panus, county public information officer, said at least half of car thefts are committed by teenagers. “The main thing is to keep your car locked, your valuables out of sight, and your keys on you, not in the car,” Panus said. (Media by Annabelle Miller)

Since July of last year, incidents such as this one have become increasingly common after a viral TikTok video highlighted a weakness in the software and security system of most Kia and Hyundai cars. Armed with this knowledge, auto thieves in the St. Louis Metropolitan area stole almost 7,500 vehicles in 2022, near double the previous year, according to the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department.

Late last month, the City of St. Louis joined five other cities in suing Kia and Hyundai for failing to install anti theft technology in many models of their vehicles.

In a recent press conference, Mayor Tishaura Jones said, “Their failure to equip Kias and Hyundais with immobilizer technology has resulted in an increased expenditure of city resources, forcing St. Louis to devote significant manpower to documenting, investigating and recovering stolen Kia or Hyundai vehicles.”

In St. Louis County, only 10 Kias and Hyundais were stolen in April of 2022. By that September, almost 300 Kias and Hyundais had been stolen.

Once the knowledge spread on how to steal these specific vehicles, we saw a big uptick.

— Tracy Panus

Tracy Panus, county public information officer, said this rapid rise in car thefts began in April of last year.

“At the beginning of 2022, there was a very small percentage of Kias and Hyundais that were stolen,” Panus said. “Once the knowledge spread on how to steal these specific vehicles, we saw a big uptick.”

Accompanying this rise in car thefts is a rise in juvenile crime. Panus said at least half of auto thefts are committed by those who are 12-17 years old.

“Part of it is they’re being recruited by adults who know that juveniles are not going to face much punishment,” Panus said. “I think there’s also a lack of supervision. These kids are 13, 14, 15 years old out at 3 a.m., and no one knows where they are.”

Panus is looking forward to the software updates Kia and Hyundai are beginning to make available. Steering wheel locks also have been distributed to police departments by the two companies, and Panus recommends that those with affected vehicles get one if that option is available to them.

“You really have to be careful,” Panus said. “The main thing is to keep your car locked, your valuables out of sight, and your keys on you, not in the car.”

Della Thompson, French teacher, has a Kia Soul, along with her daughter. In late February, her daughter’s car was broken into, and the perpetrator attempted to hotwire the vehicle.


“They ended up damaging it so badly it can’t be driven,” Thompson said. “And because so many of the cars have been broken into, there’s an eight to nine week delay on parts.”

Thompson said she and her family have always loved Kia but are now frustrated by the company’s poor decision and slow reaction.

“We feel like they could do better at helping us out,” Thompson said. “Hopefully the recall will come out for my model soon, and I’ll be able to get it into the shop and have them put the new upgrade on it.”

Because so many of the cars have been broken into, there’s an eight to nine week delay on parts.

— Della Thompson

James Nacy, orchestra teacher, had a Kia Optima that was broken into three separate times.

“The last two times it happened was 10 days apart,” Nacy said. “I was just fed up and bought a new car.”

Rather than feeling frustrated with Kia, Nacy said he is more upset that so many people are stealing vehicles in the first place.

“At this point, almost anything can be broken, hacked or whatever if somebody tries hard enough,” Nacy said. “To figure out how to do it and spread viral videos of how to do it, giving step by step instructions, that makes me disgusted with people more so than with Kia.”

This story was originally published on Marquette Messenger on April 24, 2023.