UPDATE: The St. Petersburg Police Department announced Tuesday morning that all the locks had been given away.
The St. Petersburg Police Department has partnered with Hyundai to offer free steering wheel locks to those with 2021 or older Hyundai vehicles to prevent car thefts.
Sgt. Cody Lance, who investigates auto thefts for the agency, reached out to Hyundai and Kia after a rise in thefts of the vehicles earlier this summer fueled by social media challenges. Hyundai agreed to give the agency 108 steering wheel locks to distribute to local Hyundai owners.
Lance said there has been another recent rise in Kia and Hyundai thefts. In the past two weeks, there have been 36 car thefts or attempted thefts, a third of them Kia or Hyundai vehicles.
Older versions of the cars have a vulnerability that allows thieves to break into the steering column and start the vehicles. Teens have been filming themselves breaking into the cars and posting the videos to YouTube and TikTok, prompting a wave of thefts.
Hyundai drivers can pick up a steering wheel lock any time between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., seven days a week, at the St. Petersburg Police Department lobby, located at 1301 First Ave. N while supplies last. Proof of Hyundai ownership, such as a vehicle registration, is required.
Lance said it’s important to test the steering wheel locks to make sure they’re working effectively and to lock your car doors.
“A much smaller percentage of these cars have the windows broken,” he said. “It’s not a guarantee that they won’t break your window, but most of the time they just look for an unlocked door.”