‘Gone in seconds’: What’s next for victims of Hyundai, Kia thefts after nearly $200 million settlement

Published: Jun. 6, 2023 at 4:05 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Richmond police continue to warn Hyundai and Kia owners about a rise in thefts after dozens of turn-key ignition vehicles were stolen in May.

The owner of a 2020 Hyundai Elantra says it took 30 seconds to steal her car in the City of Richmond, and she wants to warn others.

“A gentleman jumped out of the car with a dark-colored shirt. When he went to pull my door, it did not work. I think he went through the back door because you could see the lights flashing on my car. And then somehow they were able to cut the alarm off,” explained Tamika Brown. “In 30 seconds, you see them pulling off with my car.”

Brown says she works overnight in Richmond and parked her car in front of a VCU police substation on West Grace Street on May 24.

Around 4 a.m., the video shows another Elantra pulling up in front of Brown’s parked car. Even with the doors locked, a man could get in and drive off with it.

The car was recovered in Hopewell days later. While there was no exterior damage, the steering column had been ripped off. Brown is working with her insurance company to get the car towed to a dealership to begin repairs.

Steering column ripped off of Tamika Brown's car.
Steering column ripped off of Tamika Brown's car.(Tamika Brown)

“Hopefully, they’ll be able to do the repairs. I’ve spoken with somebody at Hyundai, so they have reached out to me to kind of get the process done a little bit quicker,” said Brown. “My car actually went for inspection where they were supposed to install [a software] update. I think they’re a little alarmed that this happened like four days after the update was supposed to have taken place.”

Tamika Brown's car remains in a tow lot in Hopewell as her insurance works to have it towed to...
Tamika Brown's car remains in a tow lot in Hopewell as her insurance works to have it towed to a dealership.(Tamika Brown)

VCU police continue to investigate, and Brown hopes other car owners will protect themselves.

“I feel like maybe consumers could have known of the issue before it became such a major crime. Tell them how they could, you know, protect ourselves. There’s a club that you put on your steering wheel. If I would have known it was this simple to protect my car, I definitely would have done that,” she said.

According to Richmond Police, 110 Hyundai and Kias have been stolen this year. 55 of the vehicles were stolen in May.

“It’s a daily occurrence when I come into work and see the day before where several vehicles in this area have been stolen again,” said Richmond Police Captain Anthony Jackson.

Brown says 8 to 9 months ago, she learned about the viral Tik Tok trend leading to the rise in thefts of Hyundais and Kias all over the country.

“My daughter mentioned it to me, and I was just like, ‘Oh, wow, it’s crazy,’ you know, never thinking that in Richmond, Virginia, something like that will become a major crime,” Brown said.

Brown’s 2020 Elantra is included in the make and models of a new class action settlement. A Hyundai-Kia theft lawsuit recently reached a more than $200 million settlement.

The law firm Hagens Berman is handling the case now.

“Unlike most vehicles, the Hyundai and Kia models affected by this security defect are not equipped with an immobilizer, leaving them vulnerable to theft and often leaving owners with repair bills over $10,000. The security vulnerability allows thieves to steal vehicles by simply opening the steering column and using a common USB charging cord or similar metal object to start the engine,” explained Hagens Berman. “Videos soon went viral online showing the simple security flaw, dubbed the “Kia Challenge.” We believe consumers who purchased affected Hyundai and Kia cars deserve better, and the automakers responsible failed to adequately protect against basic theft in order to cut costs.”

The settlement provides various benefits:

  • Up to $145 Million for Out-of-Pocket Losses. This tier of payments includes compensation for a range of out-of-pocket damages, including total loss of vehicles up to $6,125, damage to vehicle and personal property up to $3,375, insurance-related expenses and other related expenses.
    • This includes car rental, taxi costs, ride share costs or public transit payments not otherwise covered by insurance. The settlement will also reimburse affected owners for towing costs as well as other fees and taxes related to replacement vehicles if the car was lost or stolen.
    • The settlement also includes payments to those whose vehicles crashed or were stolen and never recovered and coverage for speeding tickets, red light tickets or other penalties or fines arising from a stolen vehicle.
  • Software Upgrades. At no cost, affected vehicle owners are eligible for a software upgrade to address the cars’ lack of an immobilizer effectively. The software is designed to prevent vehicles from starting without a key.
    • Hyundai vehicles eligible for the software upgrade include 2018-2022 Accent, 2011-2022 Elantra, 2013-2020 Elantra GT, 2018-2022 Kona, 2013-2022 Santa Fe, 2013-2018 Santa Fe Sport, 2019 Santa Fe XL, 2011-2019 Sonata, 2011-2022 Tucson, 2012-2017, 2019-2021 Veloster, 2020-2021 Venue, 2013-2014 Genesis Coupe and 2020-2021 Palisade.
    • Kia vehicles eligible for the software upgrade include 2011-2022 Kia Sportage, 2011-2022 Kia Sorento, 2021-2022 Kia K5, 2011-2021 Kia Sedona, 2014-2021 Kia Forte, 2012-2021 Kia Rio, 2021-2022 Kia Seltos, 2011-2020 Kia Optima and 2020-2022 Kia Soul.
  • Payments in Lieu of Software Upgrades. Owners of models that cannot receive the software upgrade will be eligible for reimbursement of up to $300 for the installation of a glass breakage alarm or anti-theft system, purchase of a steering wheel lock, or other aftermarket modifications designed to deter or prevent theft.

“Hyundai and Kia have had a problem for years with failure, with the failure to have installed an immobilizer device on the steering column of the vehicle, which prevents the theft of the vehicle,” explained consumer attorney John Gayle of Consumer Law Group, P.C.

Gayle says the $200 million is a preliminary settlement, but a July 10 court date could bring suit approval.

“Right now, what people need to understand is you can go to a website called www.classaction.org, which is just a blog site. It is a class action site which will give you up-to-date information on what kind of settlements you can recover,” he said. “You will be notified eventually of this class action settlement. There will be an official class action settlement website for you to go to. That has not been established yet.”

Consumers can opt out of reimbursement from the class action settlement and file a personal lawsuit against the car makers.

“If you think your losses are significantly higher than the amounts that have been offered if you can find an attorney willing to take your individual case on and sue Kia and Hyundai for whatever they think they violated, then you can,” he said.

Gayle says consumers should keep receipts of expenses and losses incurred from the theft of a Hyundai or Kia.

“This has gone through months and months of mediation. The amount of time it’s going to actually before you can start getting money is three, four or five months, but not that much longer. Federal courts tend to go pretty fast on this,” said Gayle.