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Kia, Hyundai car owners can claim piece of $145M theft settlement next week, law firm says

Some Kia and Hyundai car owners who had their vehicles stolen will receive notices next week allowing them to claim their piece of a $145 million settlement.

Hagens Berman, a Seattle-based law firm, announced that anyone who bought or leased Kia or Hyundai models made from 2011 to 2022 and had their vehicle stolen will be notified by or on March 4.

The class action suit stems from claims that Korean automakers, Kia America and Hyundai Motor America, allowed their vehicles to be more susceptible to theft by failing to install immobilizers in the affected models, according to Hagens Berman.

"We are very pleased that it will allow customers who have been impacted by vehicle thefts to receive several additional benefits," Kia said Wednesday in a statement emailed to USA TODAY.

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The suit is estimated to cover about 9 million affected vehicles, the law firm said in a May 2023 news release.

"Hyundai is committed to the comprehensive actions we are undertaking to assist customers and communities affected by the persistent thefts of certain Model Year 2011-2022 vehicles not equipped with push-button ignitions and engine immobilizers," the automaker said Wednesday in a statement emailed to USA TODAY.

The court granted preliminary approval Oct. 31, 2023, of the revised settlement agreement with Hyundai and Kia, the law firm said in its FAQ.

Rows of new Kias sit on a lot at the Georgia Ports Authority Colonel's Island terminal in Brunswick.
Rows of new Kias sit on a lot at the Georgia Ports Authority Colonel's Island terminal in Brunswick.

How long do Kia, Hyundai owners have to wait for payment?

Eligible car owners may have to wait a little longer to get their money after submitting their claims. The court will have to grant final approval of the revised $145 million settlement fund before payments are sent out, according to the law firm's FAQ.

The court's final approval hearing is scheduled for July 15, 2024.

"The judge’s order on final approval could come at any time on or after this date, and only after an order granting final approval is issued, and any appeals are resolved, will settlement payments go out to claimants," the law firm said. "Any appeals will delay these payments."

Funds from the settlement will go towards class members' out-of-pocket expenses related to "the theft or attempted theft of an affected vehicle that was not otherwise covered by insurance," according to the law firm's FAQ.

The deadline to submit a claim to receive settlement funds is Jan. 11, 2025, according to the law firm. Those who submit claims only have to be registered as the owner or lessor of the vehicle, it does not matter if the car was bought at a dealership or privately, according to the FAQ.

Software upgrades will be available to class members who own certain vehicles to address the lack of an immobilizer, the law firm said.

The Angeion Group, an independent settlement administration company, will be tasked with identifying and notifying class members, according to the law firm's FAQ. Car owners can determine whether their vehicle is included on the Kia and Hyundai settlement websites.

What is an anti-theft immobilizer?

An immobilizer is an antitheft device commonly installed in modern cars that prevents them from being started unless a code is transmitted from the vehicle’s smart key, according to Hagens Berman's May 2023 release.

St. George Evans and Edward Birkenbeul created the earliest versions of the engine immobilizer, which is integrated into the engine control unit, in the early 1900s, J.D. Power, a Michigan-headquartered software and consumer intelligence company, said.

"When (an immobilizer) works properly, the probability of your car being stolen is significantly low," the company said.

Kia recall: Sportage, Carnival vehicles

Car owners can check if their vehicles have a factory immobilizer installed by reading the owner's manual, according to the company.

Capitol One estimates that it costs between $50 to $160 to have an immobilizer installed.

'Kia Challenge' TikTok trend prompted suit, law firm says

A viral TikTok trend coined the "Kia Challenge" exposed Kia and Hyundai vehicles' lack of an immobilizer, thus prompting Hagens Berman's class action suit.

The videos explain how to start Kia and Hyundai vehicles with only a screwdriver and USB charging cord. The "Kia Boys" are seen in videos stealing vehicles with the illegal technique.

The challenge encouraged New York City to file a suit against the automakers a month after Hagens Berman filed its class action. New York's suit accuses Kia and Hyundai of not keeping up with other automakers by failing to install immobilizers in their vehicles, according to the 39-page suit filed in the Southern District of New York.

"This case is a clear example of what happens to public safety when car manufacturers choose not to include standard anti-theft technology in their cars," the suit reads. "Hyundai’s and Kia’s business decisions to reduce costs, and thereby boost profits, by foregoing common anti-theft technology have resulted in an epidemic of thefts."

The suit in New York is still pending.

What are Kia, Hyundai doing now?

In Kia's statement to USA TODAY, the automaker said it "distributed more than 340,000 free steering wheel locks nationwide to owners of impacted vehicles that are not eligible for the software upgrade."

"These free steering wheel locks further enhance a vehicle’s security and can serve as a theft-deterrent for potential car thieves. We will continue to provide these locks as they are needed," the company said.

The automaker also said customers can obtain free Kia-provided locks through local law enforcement or request a steering wheel lock from Kia directly.

The over 3 million customers eligible for free software upgrades were also notified by Kia, the company said. To date, more than 1 million Kia vehicles nationwide received the upgrade, according to the automaker.

Kia and Hyundai also developed an ignition cylinder protector, a new hardware modification designed for vehicles not eligible for the software upgrade.

"The hardware modification helps combat theft by reinforcing the ignition cylinder body and preventing its removal through the method of theft promoted in videos that have spread across social media encouraging criminal activity," Kia said.

To speed up anti-theft hardware installations, Hyundai said it launched multi-day mobile pop-up software installation clinics in Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Charlotte, St. Louis, New York, Chicago, Minneapolis, El Paso, Los Angeles, New York and Baltimore,

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Kia, Hyundai theft lawsuit settlement notices to go out next week