BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — A viral Tik Tok challenge is still encouraging young people to steal cars and police say steering wheel locks are not the permanent solution.
Police say Kia and Hyundai vehicles are still being broken into and stolen. Grace O’Neil says her Hyundai Tucson was stolen Wednesday night when she was out to dinner. She says the car was parked in front of her home in South Buffalo. Now, she doesn’t feel safe in her car.
“I personally did not think I really had to worry. I feel like you hear about this stuff on the news. You hear stories from other people, but I never would have imagined it would happen to me,” O’Neil told News 4.
O’Neil says police later found her car Thursday morning abandoned on LeRoy Avenue in East Buffalo.
“It was pretty badly damaged. The back window was shattered. The ignition was completely torn out and all around it was torn out. My car was just destroyed with objects that were not mine,” O’Neil added.
O’Neil isn’t alone. Town of Tonawanda Police spotted a different stolen Hyundai early Thursday morning. The car was in the area of Sheridan Drive and Military Road. The driver tried to get away through a Super 8 Motel parking lot and onto nearby train tracks. The car got stuck and the people inside tried to flee on foot. Two suspects were arrested and one remains at large.
On Wednesday, Niagara County Sheriff’s Deputies found a stolen Kia and were led on a high speed chase in Wheatfield. The 15-year-old driver and passengers were issued tickets and released.
“I think maybe if you already had a propensity to go out and steal vehicles, this gave you another avenue to do it because it is relatively easy to do,” Niagara County Sheriff Michael Filicetti said. “There’s something wrong where you can steal someone’s vehicle, lead police on a high speed chase and then essentially at the end of this you’re walking out.”
Hyundai and Kia distributed steering wheel locks to police departments, but Sheriff Filicetti says the car companies should fix the problem, not law enforcement.
“To me, handing out wheel locks at police agencies is a band aid. I don’t think that fixes the problem. You need to fix the ignition systems in these vehicles,” Sheriff Filicetti said.
O’Neil says she is taking her car to a mechanic in the hopes it can be fixed, but she says it doesn’t seem safe to drive.
“I think that the next step would be talking to your dealer and seeing if there is anyway to get out of the car that you own because I don’t think that it’s safe to be driving these vehicles,” O’Neil said.
News 4 reached out to Hyundai and Kia for comment. Hyundai released this statement to News 4:
In response to increasing thefts targeting our vehicles without push-button ignitions and immobilizing anti-theft devices in the United States, Hyundai Motor America has made engine immobilizers standard on all vehicles produced as of November 2021. Additionally, Hyundai has taken a series of actions to deter thefts of affected vehicles, including an upcoming software update scheduled to be available beginning in March and provided at no cost to customers.
In the interim, Hyundai is also providing free steering wheel locks, as available, to select law enforcement agencies across the country for distribution to local residents who own or lease affected models. We apologize for the inconvenience to affected customers. Owners may also bring their vehicles to a local Hyundai dealer for the purchase and installation of a customized security kit.
Hyundai is committed to ensuring the quality and integrity of all our products through continuous improvement. Hyundai quality is among the best in the industry, ranking third among all brands in the 2022 U.S. Vehicle Dependability Study (VDS) and historically above the industry average in J.D. Power’s U.S. Initial Quality Study (IQS).Hyundai Motor America
Tara Lynch is a Buffalo native who joined the News 4 team as a reporter in 2022. She previously worked at WETM in Elmira, N.Y., a sister station of News 4. You can follow Tara on Facebook and Twitter and find more of her work here.