Hyundai, Kia lawsuits over hotwire thefts growing

Pressure continues to build on Hyundai Motor America and Kia America to solve a design glitch that makes millions of their older models easy to hotwire and steal. This comes as the automakers continue to attempt to steer customers to an aftermarket fix.

Owners and attorneys have filed 26 class action lawsuits in courts around the U.S. against Hyundai and Kia, seeking monetary damages for owners and a nationwide recall. That is an increase from 15 class action suits last month.

An estimated 10 million Hyundai and Kia vehicles on the road lack engine immobilizers, which would deter theft.

Instead of initiating a recall, which one attorney estimates could cost as much as $5 billion, the automakers have turned to the aftermarket.

Hyundai tapped aftermarket remote-start maker Firstech to pull together a bundle of suitable off-the-shelf components from its Compustar line of security systems that would protect certain trim levels of its 2016-21 model year vehicles from theft. Hotwire thefts have been occurring all year in various cities after how-to videos were posted on social media.

Some Kia America vehicles from the 2011-21 model years are also affected by the crime wave, but that brand’s solution is to provide city officials and law enforcement agencies with steering wheel locks to hand out to worried owners in impacted regions.

On Oct. 1, Hyundai announced that its fix-it kit will cost $170 and assured the public that all 832 of its dealers, as well as all authorized Compustar dealers, such as Best Buy, could source and install the security part.

That same day, Hyundai issued a parts bulletin to alert dealers of the availability of the kit, informing them that specific VINs are needed to activate the order.

The kit includes a Compustar FT Alarm-It glass-break sensor and siren, a Compustar 697A immobilizer system and a Hyundai-developed installation pack specific to affected vehicles. Hyundai says installation takes 2.5 hours.

But actual costs may vary.

Some parts departments quoted higher prices to Automotive News, from $179.55 before tax, up to $209. Hyundai has left the additional issue of labor costs up to individual dealerships.

Getting the word out that the kit exists is also posing a challenge. Hyundai is relying on media reports to communicate its message about availability.

“The media statement is now out there and live and I’m fielding calls daily,” Hyundai spokesperson Ira Gabriel told Automotive News. “Customers can also call the dealer or call the customer care number to get the information.”

Unlike the procedure initiated by a nationwide recall, there is no official communication to urge owners to contact their dealer for the fix. It is also unclear whether all customers and retailers are even aware of the brewing legal storm.

A parts and service manager at one Hyundai dealership, who asked not to be identified, told Automotive News he had not even heard of the theft problem or the security kit. He later said he inquired with two other parts and service managers, and they advised him to direct customers to consumer affairs on the matter.

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