ST. LOUIS – Car thefts have jumped in the City of St. Louis in 2022, driven by a surge in the number of Kia and Hyundai vehicles stolen. Earlier this month, the city counselor’s office sent letters to Kia and Hyundai chastizing the car manufacturers for failing to install an engine immobilizer in many of their vehicles. The city is demanding action.

St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones and Director of Public Safety Dan Isom signed off on the letter, which says the companies are contributing to a public nuisance in the city.

Recent theft victims said the city needs to do its part, too.

College sophomore, Ben Siemer, has a new feature on his new 2023 Hyundai Elantra: a steering wheel lock. He wishes he had it three weeks ago.

“My mom got up at 6 a.m., woke me up, and said my car was gone. It wasn’t a good morning,” Siemer said.

That stolen car ended up crashed and totaled. The new Elantra is the replacement.

Jim Hayes had his 2013 Kia Optima stolen a few blocks from where Siemer’s was taken in south St. Louis.

“This is ridiculous. What’s the city coming to,” Hayes said.

His car was found but is still awaiting ignition repairs nearly one month after the crime.

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.

St. Louis City Counselor Sheena Hamilton, the city’s top legal officer, wrote Kia and Hyundai on August 19, saying St. Louis Police have reported more than 1,500 thefts or attempted thefts of Kia and Hyundai vehicles so far this year, with 356 coming in the first 13 days of August, which accounts for nearly 77% of all vehicles stolen over that timeframe.

“The (City of St. Louis) demands that Kia and Hyundai mitigate the defective conditions providing thieves the ability to steal cars, destroy property, endanger city drivers and themselves, and in some cases committing very violent crimes,” said Dan Isom, Director of Public Safety for the City of St. Louis.

Theft victims applaud the letter but say the city also needs to crack down on crime.

Police officers report the city’s Anti-Crime Task Force has been cut by more than a third.

“Take it seriously,” Hayes said.  “We know in the city some people aren’t taking crime seriously.”

Hamilton’s letter threatens legal action if Kia and Hyundai refuse to act within 30 days.

As for beefing up the Anti-Crime Task Force or law enforcement, in general, to combat the problem, Monte Chambers, a Program Manager for the Department of Public Safety gave a statement saying, in part:  

“The safety and security of St. Louis residents and visitors is the Department’s top priority, and the uptick in Kia and Hyundai thefts has consumed a significant amount of police time and resources…SLMPD’s weekend cruising detail is implemented using data-driven strategies to deter crime and deploy resources effectively in key areas. Public safety and police leaders meet consistently to discuss the most efficient ways to combat violent crime trends, including Kia and Hyundai thefts.”

You can read the city’s letter below in its entirety.

Demand Letter to Kia and Hyundai by KevinSeanHeld on Scribd