Amidst high theft rates, Kia and Hyundai owners can now receive free steering wheel locks

Key start Kia and Hyundai vehicles made between the years 2011 and 2021 can qualify for the program.

Photo by Alexa Christie | Car theft has been an increasing problem.

The Puget Sound Auto Theft Task Force (PSATTF) has partnered with local dealerships to provide free steering wheel locks to owners of some Kia and Hyundai vehicles. 

Local law enforcement agencies are distributing the steering wheel locks to owners of key start vehicles, made between the years 2011-2021. Owners who present their registration and key to a participating law enforcement office are eligible to receive the free steering wheel lock device. 

“It is important to note that the Puget Sound Auto Theft Task Force, in partnership with Kia and Hyundai, is providing these devices to aid in deterring vehicle theft. The locks do not guarantee protection from theft,” said the Puget Sound Auto Theft Task Force in a recent news release.

This coordinated effort is in response to a social media trend going viral on the app TikTok where individuals, identifying themselves as “Kia Boys”, demonstrate how to steal key start Kia or Hyundai vehicles in under thirty seconds. In the short social media videos, individuals show how to bypass the engine immobilizers by taking off the steering column covers and inserting a USB-A drive into the key ignition. This enables the car to start without a key, allowing the individual to drive off with the vehicle.

Isabella Pettis-Infante, a UWT Senior who is majoring in Writing Studies, knows this trend all too well. On February 16, after parking her 2013 Hyundai Sonata at the Tacoma Armory to attend a meeting on campus, Pettis-Infante returned to where she parked her vehicle, only to realize it had been stolen. 

“At first, I thought (my car) had been towed, but then someone who was with me said that something else was probably more likely. Then it dawned on me that it had been stolen,” Pettis-Infante recalled, “…after a few days, I was angry because I kept remembering things that I had in my car. It was really inconvenient and disconcerting coming out and realizing it was completely gone. I had only had this car for about a year.”

Pettis-Infante said, after reporting the vehicle as stolen, it was recovered just a few weeks later. Pettis-Infante says her gym bag, and other valuables were taken from the vehicle. The car is currently in the repair shop, due to damage to the steering column, key and dash..

Pettis-Infante said “There was no broken glass even though I locked the doors, so I assume there is some kind of tool they can use to unlock the door… I would suggest that if someone has a Hyundai or Kia, they take extra precautions. The police weren’t much help so don’t expect that reporting the crime will do much.”

The Tacoma Police department declined to participate in the free device program.

Photo by PSATT via Facebook | Puget Sound Auto Task Force logo

Sergeant Jeff Carroll, with the Lakewood Police Department and the Puget Sound Auto Theft Task Force (PSATTF), stated there are many reasons individuals and groups are taking Kia and Hyundai vehicles, overall, there has been an extensive increase in car thefts for these models in Pierce County over the past year and a half.

“Certain model Kias and Hyundais experienced about a 900% increase in thefts from November 2021-January 2022 (and)  November 2022-January 2023… We reached out to Kia and Hyundai to see if they would provide steering wheel locks free of charge to owners of the affected models.  They agreed and have so far provided nearly 1500 devices to PSATT. PSATT has distributed them to the listed agencies so that the public has many options on where to get one. We stress that the devices are a deterrence and do not guarantee theft prevention,” Carroll said.

The Pierce County Sheriff’s Department, South Hill Precinct, along with many Pierce County and South King County police departments, are participating in the giveaway program.

A list of participating departments can be found below. If your local police or sheriff’s department is not listed, you can visit any participating one to collect your device. 

“There is no residency requirement, so students can go to any of the participating agencies to pick up a lock,” said Heather LaLiberte, with the Puget Sound Auto Theft Task Force.

In addition to the steering wheel locks, the Kia and Hyundai companies have announced plans to release theft deterrent software upgrades for qualifying vehicles. These security updates will become available in phases, rolling out over the next six months. Carroll recommends contacting your local Kia or Hyundai dealer to get the most up-to-date information on the software download and accompanying window theft-deterrent device stickers, as supplies last.

Carrol said “In addition to those (Sheriff and Police departments) listed, PSATT is also supplying Fircrest PD, Buckley PD, Enumclaw PD, Steilacoom PD, and Sumner PD with steering wheel locks to distribute. Also, Kent PD, Renton PD and Tukwila PD are running their own programs to distribute these devices.”

Participating police and sheriff’s departments who are offering the free steering wheel devices are:

Pierce County Sheriff’s Department

South Hill Precinct

271 John Bananola Way E, South Hill

Lakewood Police Department

9401 Lakewood Dr SW

Puyallup Police Department

311 W Pioneer

Edgewood Police Department

2224 104th Ave E

Eatonville Police Department

201 Center St W

University Place Police Department

3612 Drexler Dr W

Bonney Lake Police Department

18421 Veterans Memorial Dr E

Fife Police Department

3737 Pacific Hwy E

Federal Way Police Department

33325 8th Ave S

Auburn Police Department

340 E Main St

Des Moines Police Department

21900 11th Ave S

SeaTac Police Department

4800 S 188th St