Attorney General William Tong, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, and Merry Jackson Credit: Hugh McQuaid / CTNewsJunkie

Connecticut Attorney General Tong, along with a coalition of  23 attorneys general from other states, is calling upon car makers Kia and Hyundai to quickly start equipping their vehicles with anti-theft immobilizers in the face of a wave of car thefts across the country.

Tong and his colleague attorneys general say the thefts are occurring because of a failure by the two manufacturers to properly equip their vehicles with the right equipment to fend off car thieves who are becoming increasingly sophisticated. Alarmingly high theft rates for Kia and Hyundai models continue across the country, including several instances in Connecticut.

The thefts may have increased because of the latest video craze that has spread via the social media platform TikTok, showing viewers how to steal cars made from 2015 to 2019 without push-button ignitions or immobilizing anti-theft devices. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the videos have led to at least “14 reported crashes and eight fatalities.”

Hyundai and Kia have developed theft deterrent software for millions of their vehicles that lack an immobilizer and will provide it free of charge to vehicle owners, according to the NHTSA. The software updates the theft alarm software logic to extend the length of the alarm sound from 30 seconds to a minute, and requires the key to be in the ignition switch to turn the vehicle on.

New Haven Police Lt. Ryan Przybylski  told WFSB that there has been “a trend upward in stolen Kias and Hyundais. It’s about a 100% increase over last year. It’s a crime of opportunity. It’s just very easy to steal these types of vehicles, these years and makes specifically.”

As the attorneys general note in their letter, Kia and Hyundai chose not to include anti-theft immobilizers as standard equipment on several vehicle models sold in the United States during a period when every other car manufacturer was doing so, despite the same Kia and Hyundai models being equipped with immobilizers for sale in Canada and Europe.

“Kia and Hyundai failed to equip [their] vehicles with industry-standard anti-theft technology, and … customers are now paying a steep price. These cars are now disproportionately targeted by thieves at rates so high some insurers are refusing to cover them,” Tong said. “Kia and Hyundai need to make this right – quickly, and without nickel and diming their customers.”

An anti-theft immobilizer is an electronic device that prevents a car from being hot-wired and stolen by someone who doesn’t have the key.

The NHTSA urges owners of these vehicles to contact Hyundai (1-800-633-5151) or Kia (1-800-333-4542) for information on the free update.

Hyundai will also provide its customers with a window sticker alerting would-be thieves that the vehicle is equipped with anti-theft protection. Hyundai says it will send the stickers and roll out software updates in a phased approach beginning later this month, with subsequent phases over the next several months.

Kia is also rolling out its free software updates in a phased approach. The company will begin to update vehicles later this month, with ensuing phases throughout the next several months.

Concurrently, the companies have been working with law enforcement agencies to provide more than 26,000 steering wheel locks since November 2022 to 77 law enforcement agencies in 12 states. The NHTSA is encouraging interested vehicle owners to contact local law enforcement to see if a wheel lock is available.

A service advisor at Lia Hyundai in Hartford said business to update the cars has been brisk. At this location, it is a software update for the car and there is no charge because it has been called a recall by Hyundai. Car owners still have to go to the dealership to get the upgrade. It can’t be done by phone.

Kia of East Hartford said that there have not been many more cars coming in for this recall than any other recall. While the dealership does have the capability to do the software update, he said most people are going to Hyundai to get the update done.

Kia and Hyundai recently announced a campaign to provide software upgrades for some of the impacted vehicle models. But Tong and other AGs point out that the announcement “is long overdue and still not enough.” They are urging the companies to do everything in their power “to accelerate the implementation of the software upgrade and to provide free alternative protective measures for all those owners whose cars cannot support the software upgrade.”

Calls and e-mails sent to the Connecticut State Police to ask for statistics or data about car thefts here in the state and these particular model car thefts were not returned.