Imagine ringing up your insurer for a renewal, giving them your details, and then telling them that you own a Hyundai or Kia only for them to apologise and hang up on you.
Well, it’s happening right now in the US where it’s reported that major insurers – State Farm and Progressive among them – are turning down drivers of Korean cars because they’re “twice as likely to be stolen” as other brands.
Why is there a sudden rash of sensible family car thefts in the US, and could it happen here? The short answer to the first question is ‘social media’ and the answer to the second one is ‘probably not . . .’
In 2021, a user on TikTok called The Kia Boys posted a video purporting to show how the plastic material surrounding the ignition key barrel could be prised apart, and the electronics inside ‘hot-wired’ to start the car using nothing more sophisticated than a USB stick.
What started as a social media wheeze has now reached epidemic proportions. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS – a hugely influential American organisation, founded by insurance companies, that independently tests and rates cars for safety and security) has recently said: “Theft claims were nearly twice as common for Hyundai and Kia vehicles as a group as for all other manufacturers”.
The Highway Loss Data Institute – an offshoot of the IIHS – has confirmed the epidemic of Hyundai and Kia thefts.
“Car theft spiked during the pandemic,” said HLDI Senior Vice President Matt Moore.
“These numbers tell us that some vehicles may be targeted because they’re fast or worth a lot of money and others because they’re easy to steal. Our earlier studies show that vehicle theft losses plunged after immobilisers were introduced. Unfortunately, Hyundai and Kia have lagged behind other automakers in making them standard equipment.”
State Farm, a huge American insurance provider, recently told CNN that: “State Farm has temporarily stopped writing new business in some states for certain model years and trim levels of Hyundai and Kia vehicles because theft losses for these vehicles have increased dramatically. This is a serious problem impacting our customers and the entire auto insurance industry.”
The Los Angeles Police Department is now advising owners of Hyundai and Kia models built between 2015 and 2019 to use old-fashioned methods of theft protection, such as steering wheel and gearshift locks, or installing an ignition ‘kill switch’.
Should Irish Hyundai and Kia owners be worried?
Thankfully for now the answer seems to be ‘not really’. The trick is that all Hyundai and Kia models sold here in that period have had a ‘kill switch’ or, as you might more normally know it, an immobiliser.
The car’s immobiliser is an electronic device that ensures only the correct and authorised key can be used to start a car, and while they’re not infallible they are a firm first line of defence against vehicle theft.
No Irish insurer The Irish Times spoke to about the issue was prepared to comment on the record (doubtless concerned about painting themselves into a corner should the issue or one like it become prevalent here) but one did tell us, off the record, that: “It’s very unlikely that someone would be turned down on the basis of the make of their car because it’s a mandatory requirement to have motor insurance. We’re not aware of insurers doing that here.”
There was silence on the question of whether insurers would load up heftier premiums for specific makes or models if they were shown to have a specific vulnerability to easy theft.
A spokesperson for Kia Ireland said: “We have conducted research into this matter previously and we can confirm that an immobiliser is standard equipment for Kia’s European specification. We believe this is not the case with US specification and we are not aware of any such issues in the Irish market.”
Hyundai Ireland simply responded by saying: “We can confirm that it is not a known issue in Ireland.”
A spokesperson for An Garda Síochána said: “An Garda Síochána does not comment on third party social media material. Vehicle crime can occur when criminals see an opportunity and take it. Members of the public can help to ‘Deter, Detect, Delay and Deny’ criminals by adopting some crime prevention measures such as ensuring the vehicle doors are locked and windows closed – an unlocked vehicle is the easiest to steal or steal from.
“Consider the use of a mechanical locking device such as a steering wheel lock or wheel clamp and consider installing a tracking device. If parking on a public street overnight, consider parking it under or close to a street light, included with the above information. If your vehicle does not have an immobiliser, consideration could be given to having an immobiliser retrofitted.”
So, it seems that there’s no need for Irish drivers to panic just yet. Probably best to keep an eye on TikTok all the same though.