CHARLOTTE, N.C. — From 2011 to 2022, approximately 9 million models from the Hyundai and Kia were manufactured without an immobilizer, making them easier to steal.
During the first six months of 2023, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department said auto thefts were the main driver of overall crime in Charlotte. One recent victim, Jason Sam, Jr. said he owns both a Hyundai and a Kia. He had one of them broken into after just moving to Charlotte a month ago.
"I pretty much moved in and there was someone moving out, and he was like, 'Have you heard about the Kia and Hyundais?' I was like, yeah. He said, 'Be safe and watch out,'" Sam said.
Sam said he walked out to his car last week and saw someone had rummaged through the middle console and stripped the steering wheel panel. He filed a police report right away.
"It was their third or fourth Hyundai that they had seen that day," he said. "You see all the news and coverage. I just didn't think I'd be the next person."
Tim Aycock, spokesperson for Matthews Police Department, said the agency is dealing with the issue on a daily basis.
"The manufacturer's report is saying it has something to do with the steering column that they can bypass the ignition," Aycock explained. "Now we're waiting on manufacturers to catch up to reprogram whatever they need to do to install whatever they need to do. Some of them have a computer issue. Some of them have to install a part, but now the problem is the backlog."
Sam said he will probably sell the Hyundai. He said he is using a steering wheel lock on his Kia.
"It's not going to stop my good energy with this area," the recent Charlotte resident said. "I'd just prefer someone not to break into my car next time."
Another victim told WCNC Charlotte anchor and reporter Jane Monreal she heard of the Kia challenge when her Kia Soul was stolen in June outside her west Charlotte apartment complex.
"I guess it was 4:45 when I opened the door," she said. "My car was gone. That's when I had to report it stolen. And that's when I discovered there was a Kia challenge."
The second time it happened to her car was after she and her boyfriend said they set a trap for the thieves.
She said they wanted to see if the thieves would try to break in again.
"Let's have all the doors unlocked," she recalled thinking. "And let's see if they're going to come back."
According to the police report, six of them did just that two weeks ago.
Brittany's boyfriend was able to scare them off.
"He was the one that grabbed my phone," she said. "They didn't hear him come outside and take photos. Our mission was, we need to get their faces."
No one had been arrested for the crime as of Aug. 31.
CMPD, in their mid-year report, said 72% of vehicle thefts in Charlotte this year have been done by middle and high schoolers, some as young 12 years old.
Aycock told WCNC Charlotte that if you are able to safely record images or video, it can help investigators.
"Obviously we want people, if you see something, say something," Aycock said. "If you see something suspicious we want you to report it immediately."
He advised affected car owners to use a steering wheel lock to help deter would-be thieves.
"Even if they can get it started, they can't move it very far," Aycock said.
The Matthews Police Department is giving away free locks from the manufacturers to drivers of affected car models. You can just stop by Matthews police station for information.
Law enforcement advise all drivers to lock their cars, store valuables, and park in well lit areas.