With Tiktok ‘challenge’ videos driving a surge in vehicle break-ins and joyriding, auto makers are providing anti-theft devices to help owners of older model cars avoid being targeted.
By Matt Skoufalos | June 29, 2023
In an effort to combat a rash of thefts targeting decade-old Kia and Hyundai vehicles, Camden County Police are distributing steering wheel locks to Camden City residents most likely to be victimized.
Police tie the auto break-ins to copycat impulses among teenagers exploiting a known weakness in the construction of the cars.
“We’ve been affected pretty heavy here,” said Camden City Metro Captain Jose Gonzalez.
In the first half of 2023, Camden City has sustained 296 reported vehicle thefts; of those, 127 vehicles (43 percent) were thefts of Kia and Hyundai models.
Gonzalez said that many of the suspects in these cases are juveniles, who break into the cars to take them joyriding.
Thieves will try unlocked car doors, but aren’t above smashing a window to gain entry.
“It takes 15 to 20 seconds,” he said.
The problem has been exacerbated by the popularity of the trend, which was first observed across the midwest, and has evolved into a viral social media “challenge.”
Kias and Hyundais dating back to 2011 model years have been specifically targeted for their lack of an anti-theft device called an immobilizer. Hyundai Motors, which manufactures both brands, didn’t put them immobilizers in some 9 million of its lower-end models sold in the prior decade, which has made them primary targets.
“For cars without immobilizers, all thieves have to do is rip off the steering column cover, remove the ignition cylinder, and turn the rectangular nub behind it to start the engine. As it happens, USB plugs fit pretty well over that rectangle. The immobilizer-free Kias and Hyundais could be stolen in a matter of seconds with just a screwdriver and a charging cord.”
In May, the auto makers agreed to a $200-million settlement for vehicle owners affected by the thefts, Reuters reported. In the meantime, the companies are also providing wheel lock anti-theft devices to owners of certain model year Kia and Hyundai owners.
Camden Metro Police are providing them to Camden City residents who own Kias from model years 2015 to 2021 and Hyundais made between 2011 and 2021. They’ve been allocated 240 locks in total from Hyundai, which has committed to provide more as needed. To claim one, residents must provide a driver license and vehicle registration corresponding with the model year.
Gonzalez said he hopes that city residents will take the department up on the offer to mitigate their risk of becoming a victim of vehicle theft.
“People work hard in the city,” he said. “It’s hard financially on their part. Repairs are expensive.”
Camden City resident Oneida Ortiz picked up a wheel lock at a distribution event Thursday afternoon in Yorkship Square in the city’s Fairview neighborhood.
“I’ve heard a lot of comments” about the vehicle thefts, Ortiz said, and they made her wary. She uses her 2015 Kia “for everything,” from getting to work and visiting relatives to running errands.
“Fairview’s been hit hard,” said resident Wren Ingram, whose neighbor’s car was stolen this year.
“The TikTok challenge didn’t help any.”
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