ST. LOUIS – The City of St. Louis filed a federal lawsuit on Monday against car manufacturers Kia America and Hyundai Motor America over a surge in car thefts involving those vehicles.

Last August, the city counselor’s office sent letters to Kia and Hyundai, chastising the car manufacturers for failing to install an engine immobilizer in many of their vehicles. Mayor Tishaura Jones and then-Director of Public Safety Dan Isom signed off on the letter, saying the companies had contributed to a public nuisance in the city.

The lawsuit seeks damages in excess of $75,000, as well as punitive damages and attorneys’ fees.

Earlier that summer, St. Louis police reported a shocking increase in thefts of Kia and Hyundai cars. Thefts of these brands has been a big issue in the St. Louis region and around the country. In fact, Missouri recorded a 10% increase in total car thefts from 2021 to 2022.

Between May 2022 and February 2023, the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department reported an average of 15 Kias and Hyundais being stolen per day, according to the suit. Since May 2022, Kias and Hyundais make up 61% of all stolen vehicles in the city, and 88% of all reported attempted thefts.

City officials say Kia and Hyundai vehicles are way too easy to steal, and it’s no secret how to do it. Thieves post the technique on social media. They break away the lower cover of the steering column, exposing a slot. They use the end of a USB to slide into the slot and use it as a makeshift key.

Kia and Hyundai key-start vehicles (Kia model years 2011-2021/Hyundai years 2016-2021) lack common technology which uses “smart keys” synced to an engine immobilizer to prevent theft. An engine immobilizer is a security device designed to prevent hot wiring. It prevents the engine from turning and starting unless the correct key is used. The technology itself was invented and patented in 1919, but did not become widespread until the early 21st century.

The lawsuit cites data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), saying the accident rate for stolen vehicles is “some 200 times the normal rate for other vehicles,” and that reducing car thefts would contribute to overall road safety.

City attorneys say the implementation of engine immobilizers cut the rate of car thefts across the United States, from 4.17 per 1,000 vehicles in 1993, to 1.15 thefts per 1,000 vehicles in 2014.

The lawsuit claims engine immobilizers were equipped in 97% of all 2021 vehicles. Kia and Hyundai vehicles have the device present in less than 80% of its 2021 automobiles. The contrast becomes more staggering in the mid-2010s.

An illustration shown in the city’s filing claims just 26% of Hyundai and Kia cars in 2015 were equipped with an engine immobilizer, compared to 96% of all other vehicles.

The lawsuit alleges both manufacturers knew “sold millions of unsafe, easily stolen cars to unsuspecting consumers,” but only offered the immobilizer devices in their more expensive models.

In February, the NHTSA announced that Hyundai and Kia were providing a software update for vehicles lacking an engine immobilizer. The update extends the length of the car alarm from 30 seconds to one minute, and requires the key to be in the ignition to turn the vehicle on.

You can read the lawsuit in its entirety below:

City of St. Louis sues Kia, Hyundai by KevinSeanHeld on Scribd