ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO) — Jean Eddy, 84, says thieves have stolen her 2018 Kia Optima LX three times this year.
On February 2nd, her car was stolen from the parking lot of her apartment, near West Riverside. Police later found it crashed and heavily damaged, suffering $4,100 in damages.
She purchased a steering wheel lock, but on June 10th, the car was stolen again. She found the steering wheel club bent and discarded in her parking stall.
When the car was found, the damage cost $5,200 to repair.
After the latest theft, on September 9th, police found her car damaged on Sandy Hollow Road.
Eddy, who lives on a fixed income, said her insurance rates have gone up due to the multiple damage claims.
Police across the country have issued bulletins warning that certain 2011-2021 Kia models and 2015-2021 Hyundai models have a security flaw that kids, following a TikTok trend, are able to exploit using a USB cable.
Nationwide, teen thieves, patterning themselves after a TikTok trend called “Kia Boyz,” have been stealing cars and taking them to perform dangerous stunts, light them on fire, or commit other crimes and then boast about it on social media.
Auto thefts in Rockford have jumped 81% over last year, according to recent statistics released by the Rockford Police Department.
“You know, in previous years past, I’ve driven cars 80,000 to 90,000 miles with no maintenance. They last. And I figured I would die before this one did, but then, because of TikTok and these crazy things now, it’s gone,” Eddy said.
She said she bought her Kia six months before she retired. Now, she says the stress of owning it has made her paranoid.
“In all my life, I’ve never had my car stolen. And to go through this three times, it causes a nervous breakdown,” she said.
Police recently urged residents to install a steering wheel lock or other anti-theft devices on their vehicles.
Justin Bronberg, an estimator at Caliber Collision, at 4141 Morsay Drive, said his shop has seen many Kia and Hyundai cars come in for theft damage repairs.
He recommended “being active and taking those safety measures… keeping that vehicle within eyesight, and also connecting something, like a third-party theft deterrent system.”
At least one class action lawsuit has been filed against Kia and Hyundai, claiming the cars do not comply with a Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard that requires cars to have an engine immobilizer that prevents activation of the engine and locks the steering column once the key is removed.
According to the lawsuit, “All a thief needs to do is strip the ignition column, exposing a piece that pops off, and then stick (in) a USB drive, a knife or some other similar tool, to start the vehicle without a key or code.”
In a statement, Kia America said it was “aware of the rise in vehicle thefts” and said its 2022 models have the immobilizer in place. Hyundai, also, said the engine immobilizers are standard in new vehicles.
Eddy says she will not be purchasing another Kia model.
“We need to have a movement in Rockford and the state of Illinois so that everybody is on the same page dealing with this because it’s happening all over the United States,” she said.
Kia customers with questions should contact the Consumer Assistance Center directly at 1-800-333-4542 (4Kia).
Hyundai customers with questions should contact the Hyundai Consumer Assistance Center at 800-633-5151.