Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

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October 4, 2022

Auto thefts in Austin increase compared to last year, driven partly by lack of anti-theft devices in Hyundai, Kia models

Rong Hua Wang

Adam Smith left his friend’s Austin apartment in the early hours of July 20 ready to drive home, but instead of seeing his Hyundai Elantra, he found an empty parking space.

“I went back out (to the parking lot), and my car wasn’t there,” psychology junior Smith said. “A pair of my shoes I had in the car were in the parking lot next to some shattered glass in the spot I was in.”

Smith’s car was one of 556 reported auto thefts in July, according to the Chief’s Monthly Report from the Austin Police Department, an 18% increase compared to July 2022. Julian Ogle, an APD detective in the auto theft interdiction unit, said auto thefts fall into many categories, including organized fraud and crimes of opportunity, but some Kias and Hyundais present a new challenge.

Kias and Hyundais, like Smith’s car, accounted for 20-25% of total thefts this summer, Ogle said. Certain models lack an immobilizer, an electronic anti-theft device that most other cars are equipped with.

The immobilizer prevents the engine from starting if someone uses anything other than that car’s key to start the car, said Andrew West, a service advisor at Tech One Automotive, an auto repair shop in Austin. Without it, someone can take the cover off the lock cylinder and use any object shaped like a key, even a USB cable, to start the car.

“I did not know about it at all,” Smith said. “Then my car got stolen and suddenly everyone had been hearing about this. I was like, I’ve never heard a word about it.”

Ogle said most Hyundais and Kias are stolen because they lack an immobilizer and are typically used as disposable vehicles for transportation to commit another crime. Therefore, the recovery rate for these thefts is relatively high.

After calling the police, Smith said he realized he left his AirPods in his stolen car, so he used his phone to track their location and direct the police to find his car abandoned alongside another Hyundai stolen that night.

“The back bumper was crushed in, my headlights were broken, one of my windows was broken,” Smith said. “A bag I had with a bunch of clothes in it was taken along with a little Jumpstarter power box … I had a thing of my brother’s ashes, and they took that.”

Hyundai and Kia dealerships offer an update to install anti-theft software that will act as an immobilizer, although both Smith and West said Austin dealerships reported a months-long delay to get an appointment.

“There’s something upwards of 4 million vehicles here in the United States that are affected by it,” West said. “Most area dealers are experiencing a pretty huge delay in getting that done.”

Smith said he bought a steering wheel lock for his car until he can get the update. During breaks in the semester, Ogle recommends against leaving a Kia or Hyundai in Austin without removing the relay that controls the ignition first. Ogle said this would deter thieves.

“I hate that I have to tell anybody that because you should just be able to lock your car and leave it and not have it be stolen,” Ogle said. “But there’s a vast amount of these (cars) and there’s several crews going around doing this that are very much on our radar … let’s not make it easy for them.”

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About the Contributor
Rong Hua Wang, Senior Comics Illustrator
Rong Hua is a second year student studying Computer Science and Arts and Entertainment Technologies. This is her second semester as the Senior Comics Illustrator; previously, she was an Opinion Illustrator during Fall 2021. Loving all things creative, she enjoys doodling and crocheting in her free time.