Looking to stem a rising tide of car thefts, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department on Saturday handed out steering wheel locks to more than 100 people who own Hyundais and Kias.
Thanks to viral TickTok videos, Hyundais and Kias have become popular targets for car thieves nationwide.
In Charlotte, the two makes accounted for 51% of the roughly 1,000 cars reported stolen this year as of March 11, said officer K.D. Merchant Sr., who works in CMPD’s Metro Division and organized the giveaway at First Baptist Church-West.
QCity Metro first wrote about the car-theft trend, called the “Kia Challenge,” in August 2022. Because of the way some Hyundais and Kias are wired, thieves can start the engine with minimal effort.
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Merchant said he approached his CMPD supervisors about organizing the giveaway after seeing the problem persist.
“This trend has been going on for a decent amount of time,” he told QCity Metro. “I’ve taken enough reports; we’ve all taken enough reports. We’ve griped about it enough to where it came to a point where maybe we need to do something different to stop it.”
Merchant said he approached Hyundai Motor Company and was given 112 steering wheel locks.
Long before the giveaway began, residents began lining up in front of the church. Cars stretched for blocks along Oaklawn Avenue.
Inside the church, residents were required to show vehicle registration documents to prove they owned a Hyundai or Kia. They then sat for a brief safety message delivered by Merchant, who said it takes about 30 seconds for an experienced car thief to hotwire some Kias and Hyundais.
“These are just literally crimes of opportunity, nothing more,” he told the audience. “They are driving around, and there is an opportunity where there is a Kia or a Hyundai. It’s just merely a matter of where your car is parked that day.”
Only some of the people who attended the event got steering wheel locks. When the supply ran out, Merchant promised he’d get more.
Wenda Vinson, who said she showed up at the event on time, was one of many sent home empty-handed.
Vinson said she bought her 2015 Hyundai Elantra unaware of its vulnerability to theft.
“I was very disappointed that it was such limited supply,” she said, noting that she put her name on a list to be notified when more free locks come in.
Although no dates are set, Merchant said he is working with officers in other CMPD divisions to host additional giveaways.
“I didn’t think it would be this big,” he said. “However, I’m happy to see that it did. It gives us more motivation to go out and do it even bigger the next time.”