ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — St. Petersburg Police showed up at Michele Austin’s condo in April with bad news. The officer informed told Austin that thieves stole her 2021 Kia SUV in the middle of the night.
“I went outside, looked, the car was gone,” Austin said.
Police told Austin two juveniles broke the steering column and took off on a joy ride that ended when they crashed into a fence in a Pinellas Park neighborhood. A home surveillance camera caught one of the suspects running from the scene.
Her vehicle remains in the body shop, and insurance money for a rental has run out, leaving her stranded.
“It’s awful. I don’t understand,” said Austin, who works as a surgical tech for the Veterans Administration. “I’m just wanting to go to work, make a living.”
Austin’s story has become common as Kia and Hyundai have scrambled to contain thefts across the U.S. after a TikTok video went viral when it exposed an easily exploited security flaw in over 8 million vehicles.
It quickly became a social media “challenge” on TikTok.
To address the problem, both automakers unveiled a software security fix earlier this year. But Associated Press data shows thieves are still driving off with these vehicles in record numbers. Federal regulators said the stolen cars account for at least 14 crashes and eight deaths.
Michael Brooks with the Center for Auto Safety said the manufacturers’ fix falls short.
“They’ve had the software fix out for a few months now and we’re continuing to see rashes of thefts spread from city to city,” Brooks noted.
Austin said Kia didn’t mail her notice of the remedy until after her Kia Seltos was stolen.
ABC Action News contacted Kia about Austin’s case and they told us their consumer affairs department is working on it.
Last month Hyundai and Kia settled a class action lawsuit over the thefts. If approved by a federal judge in July, it will give cash to consumers who incurred theft-related losses.