A recent spike in thefts of certain bargain-priced autos, primarily due to an absence of what has become a standard anti-theft equipment feature, has spurred responses from some auto insurers, the Minnesota state legislature, and some state insurance regulators.
According to a Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) analysis of 2021 insurance claims, there has been a marked increase in thefts of certain Hyundai and Kia vehicles—specifically, dating from the 2015 to 2019 manufacture years—attributable in large part to those model years lacking electronic engine immobilizers. See Hyundais, Kias are easy targets amid boom in vehicle thefts, The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), https://tinyurl.com/2nw73m48. The surge in thefts took off after a viral online video surfaced which demonstrated how to start certain Kia and Hyundai cars by bypassing the ignition (an occurrence that the immobilizer is designed to prevent). See Joel Guinto, Kia, Hyundai offer fix after TikTok car theft trend, BBC News, February 15, 2023 https://tinyurl.com/md2p33j9. The HLDI reported that theft claims for certain Kia and Hyundai models were nearly twice as common than vehicles from other manufacturers. Notably, for the model year 2015, immobilizers were standard on 96 percent of cars manufactured by companies other than Hyundai and Kia, whereas only 26 percent of the Hyundai and Kia vehicle models manufactured that year were built with immobilizers. See Hyundais, Kias are easy targets amid boom in vehicle thefts, IIHS, https://tinyurl.com/2nw73m48.
The theft reports set off a chain reaction of responses from certain auto insurers, a state legislature, and several state insurance regulators.
On the insurance front, one major auto insurer reportedly ceased accepting—at least temporarily—new customer insurance applications in some states for certain model years and trim levels of Hyundai and Kia vehicles. Another major auto insurer announced that in some geographic areas, it would be increasing rates and limiting its sale of new policies on the affected car models. See Saleen Martin, Major insurance companies drop coverage of some Hyundai, Kia vehicles after theft issues, USA Today, January 30, 2023, https://tinyurl.com/56jfe8j3.
On the legislative side, the Minnesota House of Representatives, introduced a bill, HF 1100, on February 1, 2023, which would require any motor vehicle manufacturers (not solely limited to Hyundai and Kia) to “offer to install at no cost to the consumer an authorized antitheft protection device . . . on all motor vehicles manufactured without an immobilizer after January 1, 2013.” See Tim Walker, Bill proposes requiring antitheft devices in Kia, Hyundai vehicles that lack them, Minnesota House of Representatives, March 6, 2023, https://tinyurl.com/54rkwsz2.
On the regulatory front, various state regulators—specifically in the states of Connecticut, Michigan, and Maryland—have already issued advisory notices and bulletins addressing the related theft issues. For example, the Connecticut Insurance Department (CID) issued a notice to insurers on February 16, 2023, which in part, reminds them that “[c]ompliance with Connecticut’s underwriting rule and rate filing requirements is required prior to such insurers taking any further action regarding coverage for the affected [Kia and Hyundai] models.” If insurers have taken action prior to filing the applicable rules and rates, the CID states that the insurers must “immediately cease such action” and discuss plans with the CID addressing affected policyholders and consumers. In Michigan, as recently as March 7, 2023, the Michigan Department of Insurance and Financial Services (DIFS) issued Bulletin 2023-03-INS reminding insurers in that state, in part, that the Michigan Insurance Code governing underwriting rules “does not permit an insurer to refuse to insure, refuse to continue to insure, or limit coverage available to an eligible person based on national theft rends or the absence of antitheft technology.” Finally, the Maryland Insurance Administration issued Bulletin 23-3 on February 21, 2023, which, in notable part, emphasized that because it is “unaware of any writer of motor vehicle liability insurance currently offering private passenger automobile insurance in Maryland that does not presently have a filed rate for [the impacted Hyundai and Kia vehicles]” that it considers refusals to insure these cars “to be in direct contravention of rates filed with the Insurance Administration and a violation of Maryland law.”
It remains to be seen whether the legislative fix in Minnesota will be implemented, as the bill is still pending, and whether similar measures may be introduced in any other states. Meanwhile, at least three state regulators, to date, have taken steps to remind the insurance industry about statutory limitations on how insurers may respond to the coverage issues that the vehicle theft proliferation presents.