Hyundai and Kia Are Launching Software Fixes for 8.3 Million Vehicles to Combat Surge in Car Thefts

UPDATE: Hyundai's starting now, but Kia will roll out the first phase of its update later this month

2022 Hyundai Elantra Hybrid
(Images: Hyundai)
  • Several Hyundai and Kia models were targeted in a raft of vehicle thefts, leading some insurance carriers to deny coverage to owners.
  • Today, the automaker is launching a software update that will eventually cover nearly 4 million vehicles.
    • Update: Kia, for its part, will roll out a similar update starting later this month.
  • The update “modifies certain vehicle control modules” for vehicles with turn-key ignitions, adding in an “ignition kill” feature tied to the key fob.
  • In addition to the software upgrade, Hyundai says it’s working with law enforcement to distribute free steering wheel locks to some affected owners, as well reimbursing owners for purchasing their own locks.
  • Only some models are eligible right now, with more models getting the software update starting in June.

Hyundai’s new software update to 3.8 million vehicles will hopefully make them much more difficult to steal.

In recent months, thefts of Hyundai and Kia models have gotten so pervasive that insurers like State Farm and Progressive refuse to cover owners in some states. Now, after reports that Hyundai was working to hammer out the issue, it’s rolling out a software update to a chunk of affected models — with the end goal being to issue a software update for 4 million vehicles.

Three models immediately eligible for the software upgrade include the 2017-2020 Hyundai Elantra, the 2015-2019 Sonata and the 2020-2021 Venue. According to the company’s statement, the update “modifies certain vehicle control modules on Hyundai vehicles equipped with standard ‘turn-key-to-start’ ignition systems”. The modification adds an “ignition kill” feature tied to the key fob, so locking the car will set the factory alarm and switch off the ignition entirely. The only way to deactivate it, according to Hyundai’s statement, is to use the key fob to unlock the vehicle again.

Hyundai dealers will install the update, free of charge, then place a new decal on the window alerting would-be thieves to the upgraded security measures. The automaker says the update will take “less than one hour” to install.

August 2020 Sales Report: New Car Sales Continued To Slip, But The Gap Is Shrinking

What other vehicles are impacted?

While the three vehicles Hyundai mentioned as “Phase 1” will initially get the update total at least 1 million, up to 14 other models will still need the upgrade. The company says it plans to handle those cars starting in June. The long list of impacted cars includes the 2018-2022 Accent, 2011-2016 Elantra, 2021-2022 Elantra, 2018-2020 Elantra GT, 2011-2014 Genesis Coupe, 2018-2022 Kona, 2020-2021 Palisade, 2013-2018 Santa Fe Sport (the two-row version), 2013-2022 Hyundai Santa Fe, 2019 Santa Fe XL (the three-row model of the past-gen Santa Fe), 2011-2014 Sonata, 2011-2022 Tucson, 2012-2017 Veloster and the 2019-2021 Veloster.

Owners can reach out to their dealer or use this dedicated website to see whether their car is eligible for the update. Hyundai says it has prioritized the software upgrade to the brand’s best-selling vehicles (and, by extension, those most targeted by thieves).

Both Hyundai and Kia have been working with law enforcement to distribute 26,000 free steering wheel locks in 12 states to owners who own or lease an impacted vehicle. For those 2011-2022 models that are not compatible with the update, it will provide locks or reimburse owners who went out-of-pocket to get a steering wheel lock prior to today’s announcement.

Without noting why these vehicles didn’t have such anti-theft features sooner, Hyundai says all vehicles it’s manufactured since November 2021 have a standard engine immobilizer (it’s not that expensive to fit one at the factory) and can take advantage of the software upgrade. So, customers hopefully will not have to stress out as much about the vehicle they’ve worked so hard for suddenly disappearing.

Kia Optima SXL 2.0 turbo

What about Kia?

In its own publication Monday, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said Kia will also roll out software updates using a phased approach. That won’t begin until later this month, though, with “subsequent phases over the next several months.”

For the moment, the automaker itself has not published a full list of impacted vehicles to the same extent as Hyundai. Hopefully, we will have more information there in the next few weeks.

Update: Added information from NHTSA, more specific numbers regarding steering locks.