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Car thieves targeting Kia and Hyundai vehicles have put Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on alert, prompting the police department, car rental companies and even a local brewery to warn drivers that they may be injured.
Sgt. Efrain Cornejo says the Milwaukee Police Department actually started noticing a trend in November 2020 where car thieves break a window and be able to drive within minutes.
“During that time, we had physical contact with the manufacturers, and what we were able to find out through them was that the vehicles that were affected were vehicles that weren’t equipped with engine mounts,” Cornejo said.
Engine mounts use electronic signals to prevent cars from getting hot. Most of the cars sold in the last 20 years have them. But many Kias and Hyundais produced before mid-2021 don’t, and Milwaukee thieves have noticed.
Kias and Hyundais thefts really exploded in 2021. That year, MPD saw 3,557 Kias and 3,406 Hyundais stolen compared to 469 Kias and 426 Hyundais in 2020.
The Milwaukee-Waukesha area was in Top 10 cities in the United States for per capita car thefts in 2021. To try to deter more thefts, MPD has partnered with car manufacturers, local businesses and community organizations to pass on wheel locks like a club to help deter criminals.
Companies spread the word in Milwaukee
Some companies, such as lakefront brewery, They try to get the word out to customers before they even sit down for a drink. The brewery located in the city’s Brewer’s Hill neighborhood has a sign on the front that reads “Notice: Please indicate whether you are driving a KIA or HYUNDAI to the host.”
Dylan Mazurkiewicz of Lakefront Brewery says they put up the sign to “notify patrons when a couple is present.” [thefts] It happened in our area and people were calling us or coming in very upset.”
“It’s annoying. It hurts for some of these people. Someone was carrying a bunch of luggage in their car and… they’re on their way to the airport,” he said. “It seemed like worst-case scenarios.”
Mazurkiewicz said that in addition to telling people about the situation and how quickly cars are stolen, the brewery also does its best to park their cars in areas with cameras, block off the building or near the yard where there are more people around. The brewery also lends steering wheel locks.
Even car rental companies are trying to educate drivers by putting signs on key rings telling drivers not to park in Milwaukee County. Posted on Reddit It sparked a flurry of comments, including from some from those who have had their cars stolen or know someone who has.
“Her friend’s car was stolen. Her rental insurance got her while she was waiting for the new car to arrive at the dealer. The rent was stolen. Then her new car was stolen before she could pick it up,” User TheCookie_Momster wrote.
Cornejo said that to date, the Milwaukee Police Department has seen a 19% decrease in thefts of Kia and Hyundai vehicles from the high numbers it saw last year.
In general, there are a number of precautions that people can take to help prevent car theft. Steering wheel locks are one, but Cornejo says tire locks — or shoe locks — are also becoming more common.
Investing in a lock key for your car might also be a good idea. And when the weather gets colder, Cornejo recommends never leaving your car unattended while the temperature rises.
For Hyundai, a bigger overhaul appears to be on the horizon. The company told NPR that although immobilizers become standard on cars produced after November 1, 2021, it plans to sell a security kit that “targets the entry method thieves use to access these vehicles” beginning October 1.
Kia tells NPR that it plans to continue partnerships with local law enforcement to distribute steering wheel locks in multiple cities.
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