DETROIT (AP) — Some Hyundai and Kia cars and SUVs are missing the anti-theft “key,” and thieves know it.

An insurance industry group claims these cars are stolen at nearly twice the rate of the rest of the auto industry because their keys lack computer chips for an anti-theft “immobilizer” system.

The thefts apparently began in the Milwaukee area two years ago and spread to several cities in the Midwest and as far away as Colorado and New Mexico after training videos surfaced on social media.

The Highway Loss Data Institute, a division of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, found that Hyundais and Kias without immobilizers had a vehicle theft claim rate of 2.18 per 1,000 insured vehicles. The rest of the industries combined had a rate of 1.21. A year of vehicle insurance is equal to one vehicle insured for one year.

The institute, which released its findings Thursday, compared cars from the 2015 to 2019 model years. He studied car theft claims from 2021.

Chip keys, which began appearing in the 1990s, are linked to another chip in the ignition switch. If they match, the motors will start. If they don’t match, the thief can’t start the engine.

The keys do not have an immobilizer system in several low-cost versions of the two South Korean automakers’ cars, such as the Kia Rio and Sportage and Hyundai Accent, the institute said.

“Our previous research shows that vehicle theft losses have decreased since immobilizers have been implemented,” said Matt Moore, the institute’s senior vice president. “Unfortunately, Hyundai and Kia have lagged behind other automakers in terms of standard equipment.”

In the 2015 model year, immobilizers were standard on 96% of third-party models, according to the institute. But they were standard on only 26% of Hyundai and Kia models. Automakers did not explain their decision not to include immobilizers in some models.

The video shows the thieves prying off the ignition cover of Hyundai and Kia cars, then using a screwdriver or USB cable to start them and drive off.

Last year in Milwaukee, 66% of the 10,476 stolen vehicles were Hyundais or Kias, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The number of thefts in the city decreased this year. Through Sept. 12, 6,048 vehicles had been impounded, but 58% of them were Hyundais or Kias, Milwaukee police said Thursday.

One 17-year-old theft suspect in a viral Kia burglary video has been arrested after police used the video and an anonymous tip to track him down, the Journal Sentinel reports. He may face up to 22 years in prison.

Hyundai and Kia have acknowledged in statements that thieves steal some of their vehicles and said they meet federal safety standards. “It is very unfortunate that criminals are using social media to coordinate actions on vehicles without engine immobilizers,” Kia said.

All 2022 Kias received immobilizers either at the start of or throughout the model year. Hyundai has said that all models launched after November 1, 2021 will have immobilizers as standard equipment.

Kia says it is working to provide steering wheel locks to authorities in affected areas free of charge to help prevent theft. Hyundai said it also provides locks to the police and will start selling a security kit aimed at thieves in October.

A spokesman for the Moore Institute said that vulnerable Hyundais and Kias are among the 20 most popular vehicles for thieves, which usually belong to powerful and expensive cars or pickup trucks. The Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat had the highest rate of theft claims.

Many of the vulnerable Hyundais and Kias are often bought by people with low incomes. “These are relatively inexpensive vehicles to buy new,” Moore said. Owners of some models may have opted out of comprehensive insurance to save money and may have had to replace the cars themselves, he said.

To prevent theft, owners should roll up windows, lock doors and carry a key or fob, says the National Insurance Crime Bureau. They should park in well-lit areas or in a garage. If they have to park outdoors, owners should consider installing motion sensor lights.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, copied or distributed without permission.

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