Amid a nationwide wave of social media-linked thefts against Hyundai and Kia that state officials say have caused at least eight deaths, federal regulators have refused to recall the vehicles.

In a letter seen by NBC News that was addressed to California Attorney General Rob Bonta and other state prosecutors, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said the car theft trend did not meet its criteria for a recall. national.

“At this time, NHTSA has not determined that this issue constitutes a safety defect or non-compliance requiring a recall,” wrote Cem Hatipoglu, NHTSA’s acting associate director of enforcement, referring to Hyundai and Kia vehicles. susceptible to theft because they lack an engine. immobilizers

In particular, Hatipoglu said, the current federal standard for auto safety does not require cars to come with immobilizers, the hardware at the center of the controversy that has unnerved affected vehicle owners.

According to Hatipoglu, the standard by which NHTSA would normally issue a recall «does not address actions taken by criminals to open or remove part of the steering column and remove the ignition lock to start a vehicle.»

In informal language, this is what is called hot wiring of a car.

The 18 attorneys general, led by Bonta, wrote to the agency in April requesting that all vulnerable Hyundai and Kia vehicles manufactured between 2011 and 2022 be recalled and fitted with immobilizers to prevent them from being stolen.

“The thefts of these Hyundai and Kia vehicles have caused at least eight deaths, numerous injuries and property damage, and have diverted significant police and emergency services resources from other priorities,” the attorneys general wrote.

A representative for NHTSA did not respond to a request for comment.

While there is no national data on the extent of thefts, Bonta said incidents of stolen Hyundai and Kia vehicles in Los Angeles increased 85% in 2022. These cars accounted for nearly a quarter of the total number of stolen vehicles in the city. 13% in 2021, according to Bonta.

In Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota, Hyundai and Kias thefts increased 836% and 611% respectively in 2022, Attorney General Keith Ellison wrote in March.

In May, Hyundai and Kia announced that they had paid a total of $145 million to cover out-of-pocket losses for owners who fell victim to such thefts.

demand more responsibility

At least one AG has deemed the companies’ actions thus far insufficient: Last week, Connecticut Attorney General William Tong announced his state would launch its own investigation into the thefts and the response from the automaker South Korea.

«It didn’t have to come to this,» Tong said at a news conference announcing the action, adding: «Whatever they’re doing is not enough.»

In an email to NBC News, a representative for Hyundai, which is Kia’s parent company, said engine immobilizers are now standard on its vehicles produced after November 2021, but that some trim levels on newer models old don’t have the equipment.

«There are no quality or defect issues with these vehicles, and they all meet or exceed Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards,» the Hyundai representative said.

Hyundai has released a free software update designed to prevent the kind of theft that is taking place. In addition, after several national insurance companies said they were limiting or denying coverage, the automaker introduced a new insurance option with AAA and is offering customers reimbursement for the purchase of steering wheel insurance, the representative said.

Despite these measures, the issue has been met with frustration and confusion among some Hyundai and Kia vehicle owners, including some who have purchased newer vehicles that are equipped with an engine immobilizer.

Brian St. Pierre, a Seattle-area resident, said in an email to NBC News that he decided to trade in his 2023 Hyundai Elantra after only driving 2,500 miles because it was stolen twice. St. Pierre said he believes the second time was precisely because it was a Hyundai, noting that his steering column had been «ripped.»

“They are targeting any vehicle that is a Hyundai or a Kia,” St. Pierre said.

While the immobilizer was activated, he said the hardware drained his battery, forcing him to have his car towed away.

Hyundai’s spokesperson said in an email that it was not aware of any performance-related battery issues stemming from the immobilizers, and that software fixes for older models do not affect battery capacity.