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St. Louis threatens to sue Kia, Hyundai after more than 660 August thefts

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Thefts of Kias and Hyundais skyrocket

Car thieves busted the ignition switch to steal a Hyundai Elantra that is waiting for a new steering column on Monday, Aug. 15, 2022, on the parking lot of Columbia Auto Repair in St. Louis.

Thieves steal two cars two nights in a row outside a Benton Park apartment building on Thursday, Aug. 11, and Friday, Aug. 12, 2022.

ST. LOUIS — City leaders earlier this month threatened to sue car companies Kia and Hyundai if they don’t address a defect that makes the vehicles easier to steal.

St. Louis leaders said the city averaged 21 Kia and Hyundai theft incidents per day in July. That number has increased to about 23 per day in August.

The city said that rate “is only increasing as the days and weeks that Kia and Hyundai both fail and refuse to remedy this public nuisance march on,” city counselor Sheena Hamilton wrote in the letter, dated Aug. 19. The letter said if the companies had not made “satisfactory progress” in mitigating the problem by Sept. 18, the city would seek legal action.

Rates of stolen Kias and Hyundais have skyrocketed in recent months in the St. Louis area — a trend that’s also been seen nationally due to a viral TikTok video that shows how to break into and drive off in the stolen, South Korean-made vehicles using just a screwdriver and a USB charging cable. The method can be used on those cars because the manufacturers did not install engine immobilizers, an electric anti-theft security device.

Thefts of Kias and Hyundais skyrocket

Joe Barbaglia, owner of Columbia Auto Repair, checks the paperwork on a Hyundai Elantra on Monday, Aug. 15, 2022, that is waiting for a new steering column after thieves busted the ignition switch to steal it. Police say social media posts showing how to start these cars without a key are contributing to a rash of stolen Kia and Hyundai vehicles.

On Monday, the St. Louis Police Department said there have been 393 reported theft and attempted thefts involving Hyundais and 269 involving Kias this month alone. Interim Public Safety Director Dan Isom said thefts of those cars represent nearly 77% of the total number of vehicles stolen in August.

Isom has for weeks emphasized that the thefts are not only crimes themselves, but they also provide people with the means to commit other crimes like shootings. That was a focus of the letter sent to the companies, noting the number of stolen Kias and Hyundais has burdened the police department’s resources and is a public nuisance.

The letter referenced a midday shootout between people in a stolen Kia and a stolen Hyundai near a busy intersection south of downtown, where a 17-year-old was shot and a bullet entered an occupied apartment.

“Kia and Hyundai’s defective vehicles have caused a public safety crisis in the city, endangering the health, safety, and peace of all those who live, work or visit the city,” Hamilton wrote. “Your companies bear the responsibility to mitigate the public nuisance your negligence has created for the city and its residents.”

Hyundai is the parent company of Kia Motors, but the two operate independently.

A Kansas City-area law firm has already filed suits against the car companies in several states, and a federal class action lawsuit has been filed in Iowa, according to

The companies have recalled more than 280,000 of their vehicles because of a separate issue that sometimes causes them to catch fire. The manufacturers warned owners to park them outdoors and away from buildings until a wiring glitch can be repaired.

Editor's note: This story was updated to correct the spelling of city counselor Sheena Hamilton's name.

It’s easy to prevent being a victim of car-related thefts. Here are some steps to help prevent your contents from being stolen from your vehicle.

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