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Kia, Hyundai cars too easy to steal? Columbus residents sue automakers in federal court

·3 min read

Amid a rash of car thefts locally and nationally involving Kia and Hyundai models, three Columbus residents have filed a federal class action lawsuit against the carmakers.

Taylor Slovak, her husband, Daniel Newman, and Erin Davies are accusing Kia America and Hyundai Motor America of selling defective vehicles that are easier to steal.

The lawsuit, filed Thursday in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio in Toledo, seeks to force the automakers to fix or replace the defective vehicles, defined as all Kia models from 2011-2021, and all Hyundai models from 2015-2021.

Kia, Hyundai models lack engine immobilizers

The vehicles are defective, in part, because they were made without engine immobilizers, devices designed to prevent a vehicle's ignition system from starting without a key, the lawsuit contends.

"Defendants knew their vehicles were defective in this manner but failed andrefused to warn/disclose these defects to customers, despite having the capability and means to do so," the lawsuit states.

Slovak, Newman and Davies also are seeking a refund of some or all the money spent to purchase their respective vehicles, each of which was stolen.

The lawsuit argues that the three plantiffs had no way of knowing their cars did not have engine immobilizers, making them more susceptible to thieves.

"Indeed, it was not until thefts exploded in Columbus — all occurring the same way and spreading across various social media outlets — that Defendants’ decades–long obfuscation of the Defect became transparent," according to the lawsuit.

"Defendants specifically placed profits ahead of the health, rights, and safety of others by intentionally designing the vehicles to be defective and by concealing material facts about the Defective Vehicles," the lawsuit states.

Kia America Inc. and Hyundai Motor America declined comment through spokespeople, saying they do not comment on pending litigation.

Kia and Hyundai cars have been targeted by thieves in Columbus and elsewhere due to the relative ease of starting them without a key. This photo is of a vehicle whose owner is part of the "Columbus Kia/Hyundai Theft Victims" Facebook group.
Kia and Hyundai cars have been targeted by thieves in Columbus and elsewhere due to the relative ease of starting them without a key. This photo is of a vehicle whose owner is part of the "Columbus Kia/Hyundai Theft Victims" Facebook group.

Kia America previously said in a statement that as of 2022, all Kia vehicles have an engine immobilizer "fitted as standard. All Kia vehicles for sale in the U.S. meet or exceed Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards," the company stated.

More than 4 in 10 vehicles stolen in Columbus this year were Kia or Hyundai models

The lawsuit comes at a time when thefts of Kia and Hyundai models are exploding in Columbus and elsewhere.

As of Monday, a total of 5,168 vehicles had been reported stolen to Columbus police this year. More than 42% of them were either Kia or Hyundai models. That figure was much lower — around 10% — in 2021.

Columbus police have said teenagers are primarily responsible for the rash of thefts and have made sport of targeting Kia and Hyundai models due to the relative ease of starting them without a key. Oftentimes, the stolen cars are damaged or totaled by the time they are recovered, police said.

Slovak found her and her husband's 2019 Kia Sportage three days after it was stolen by searching for it in the Columbus police database for impounded vehicles. The front axle on the compact SUV appeared to be broken, the car's engine was damaged, a tire rim was destroyed and the car's rearview mirror was ripped out.

This photo is of a vehicle whose owner is part of the "Columbus Kia/Hyundai Theft Victims" Facebook group and was extensively damaged when it was recovered by police.
This photo is of a vehicle whose owner is part of the "Columbus Kia/Hyundai Theft Victims" Facebook group and was extensively damaged when it was recovered by police.

In the wake of the theft, Slovak started the "Columbus Kia/Hyundai Theft Victims" Facebook group to connect with fellow victims. Since its inception, the group has grown to include more than 1,500 members.

Slovak deferred comment on the lawsuit to her attorney, Melissa Payne, of Westlake, Ohio, who said there are at least five other class action lawsuits currently pending against Kia and Hyundai.

"The big thing about our class action is it's for Ohio residents," Payne said. "People who are Ohio residents who purchased their vehicle out of state and in Ohio."

The suit also applies to out-of-state residents who had their Kia or Hyundai stolen while their car was in Ohio, she said.

Monroe Trombly covers breaking and trending news.

mtrombly@dispatch.com

@MonroeTrombly

This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Kia, Hyundai cars too easy to steal? That's what lawsuit claims