Dayton police say thieves have been exploiting a security design flaw in Kias made since 2011 and Hyundais made since 2015.
The security vulnerability means thieves can break open the steering columns on these vehicles and use a common USB charging cord to turn the ignitions and start the engines.
Viral videos on TikTok and Youtube give step-by-step instructions on how to steal these vehicles.
Some videos of people stealing cars and joyriding in them have millions of views, and law enforcement believe social media is partly to blame for the rise in thefts of these cars and SUVs.
Kia vehicles that have been going missing usually have “insert-and-turn” steel keys.
In a statement, Kia America said most of its vehicles in the United States are equipped with a key fob and a “push-button-to-start” system, which make them more difficult to steal.
2022 Kia models and trims have an immobilizer applied either at the beginning of the model year or as a running change, the company said.
Hyundai Motor America said criminals are targeting its vehicles without engine immobilizers. The devices became standard on all Hyundai vehicles produced after Nov. 2, 2021.
It’s unclear how many vehicles have this security issue, and both automakers did not provide this information when this newspaper requested it.
But the Dayton Daily News obtained state data about automobile registrations that show there are about 475,350 Kias and Hyundais registered in Ohio.
That includes about 20,050 in Montgomery County; 15,850 in Butler County; 9,450 in Warren County; 6,115 in Greene County; 5,500 in Clark County; 3,350 in Miami County and 1,170 in Champaign County.
Dayton police have recorded more than 90 thefts and attempted thefts of Kias and Hyundais this year.
“People who are bent on taking other people’s property tend to find new and innovative ways to get that done,” said Dayton police Major Jason Hall, commander of the patrol operations division.
He said thieves do not need “advanced technical knowledge” to steal Kias and Hyundais with a USB charger.
“As a policeman, absolutely I wish people didn’t put videos online about how to steal cars, but I don’t see that stopping,” he said during a news conference earlier this month.
Most other local communities said they do not currently have major issues with thefts of Kias or Hyundais.
While many Kias may have push-button engines and newer Kia and Hyundia vehicles have immobilizers, thieves might not know or realize that until after they break into a vehicle and cause significant damage.
Multiple people whose Kias and Hyundais were stolen told this newspaper that the thieves caused thousands of dollars in damage.
Some vehicles are recovered by police, but owners say they face long waits for repairs because thefts of these brands of automobile are so wioespread.
Kia America says it has provided steering wheel lock devices at no cost to law enforcement in affected areas to help deter theft and vandalism.
“That effort will continue in close coordination with local police departments for distribution to concerned owners of Kia vehicles not originally equipped with an immobilizer,” the company said.
Hyundai says it has and will continue to work with local police departments to offer steering wheel locks to affected Hyundai owners.
The company also said it will make Firstech / Compustar security kits available to buy and install at Hyundai dealerships and Compustar authorized installers across the country.
The kits, which will become available in October, target the “method of entry thieves are using to access these vehicles,” the car company said.
Major Hall said third-party locks and immobilizers for steering wheels and brake pedals can be inexpensive ways to help prevent theft.
Alarms, with kill switches and immobilizers, also are very effective, but they are not cheap, he said.
This year, more than 4,850 vehicles have been reported stolen across Ohio and have been entered into the Ohio State Highway Patrol’s Law Enforcement Automated Data System, according to data from the state patrol.
This includes about 323 vehicles in Montgomery County; 98 in Butler County; 62 in Clark County; 55 in Warren County; 38 in Greene County; 26 in Miami County; and six in Champaign County.