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Hyundai offering free anti-theft software upgrade to St. Louis drivers this weekend

The interior of a 2021 Hyundai Tucson is shown on Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2023. Hyundai technicians will be at the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis in Jennings on Sept. 9 and 10 to make software upgrades to vehicles like the one pictured that will make them harder to steal.
Rachel Lippmann
St. Louis Public Radio
Hyundai technicians will be at the Jennings location of the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis on Sept. 9 and 10 to make software upgrades to cars like this 2021 Tucson that will make the vehicles harder to steal.

Owners of Hyundai models that are vulnerable to theft will be able to get the flaw fixed for free this weekend.

Service technicians from the company will be at the Jennings location of the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. The needed software upgrade will take about 20 minutes.


“We welcome corporate responsibility,” said Kenneth Murdock, St. Louis County’s director of diversity, equity and inclusion. “We welcome people engaged in the community, trying to make the community safer, and trying to give citizens more options to protect their families and their homes.”

A number of Hyundai vehicles built before November 2021 do not have an engine immobilizer, a device that prevents the car from being started unless the correct key is present. Once the flaw was discovered, thefts of Hyundais began to skyrocket. Kia, another South Korean company, has a similar flaw in some of its older vehicles.

Both companies began offering free steering wheel locks to police departments, which then distributed them to owners of those vehicles. David VandeLinde, vice president of parts and service for Hyundai Motor America, said he understood owners’ frustration with the lack of a permanent fix at first.

“These vehicles don’t have immobilizers, so to go back in and put a software solution in takes an enormous amount of engineering effort,” he said.

A spokesman for Kia said in a statement that the company will be working with law enforcement agencies to host its own software upgrade events. Owners of both brands can also take them to a dealership to have the upgrade installed.

Much like computers and phones, not all Hyundais, especially older ones, will be able to accept the software upgrade, VandeLinde said. And not all models will need them. Drivers can check online to see if an update is required, but technicians will also check before they do the work.

Regardless, anyone who attends the upgrade event will be given a steering wheel lock.

Patricia Washingtion, executive vice president of communications and special projects for the Urban League, said she was proud that her agency could partner with Hyundai for this event.

“It only takes one incident that can spiral people out of control,” she said. “Something happens to your car, you miss work. You miss work, you may not be able to go back to work. You can’t go back to work, you can’t take care of your family.”

The St. Louis County Police received 1,658 reports of motor vehicle thefts between January and August of this year. More than a quarter of the vehicles taken were Hyundais, and another 25% were Kias.

The numbers are similar in the city of St. Louis; through the month of August, the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department recorded 4,236 vehicle thefts. Of those, 1,081 were Hyundais, and another 1,000 were Kias.

The city sued both automakers in March, saying their failure to install engine immobilizers created a public safety risk for the city. That lawsuit has been rolled into a larger one in federal court in California.

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.

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