A long line of vehicles snaked through a parking lot of a District Heights, Maryland, shopping center on Monday.
They were there because Prince George’s County police were giving away 150 steering wheel locks to people who owned Hyundais and Kias. The bright yellow locks, given to the department by the automakers, were gone in less than a half-hour.
For the most part, the cars that came through the lines were the kinds of vehicles that have been targeted by car thieves in recent months, but it wasn’t just those models that were coming through the line.
“Because I’m in a rental car,” explained Brenda Slaughter of District Heights.
Since just before Christmas, Slaughter’s Hyundai has been stolen twice. The first was when her car was parked in Crystal City, Virginia. Days after she got it back, it was stolen again.
The repairs have cost her around $5,000: “And right now, my car is still in the shop because they don’t have the parts.”
Terry Rawlings, of Bowie, was another Hyundai owner who arrived in a rental car. Her car was stolen from outside her home on Friday. She found out about it when police called her to say they found it in D.C. a short time later.
“The ignition was really busted, the back window, of course, was busted out, and the car was just truly ransacked,” said Rawlings, who is waiting for her insurance company to tell her how much it’ll cost to fix.
“It’s really a national issue, it’s not something that’s unique to Prince George’s County,” explained Emily Austin, a spokeswoman and officer with the Prince George’s County Police Department. “In addition to these steering wheel locks, we’re recommending people not to leave their USB cords in sight or any items of value visible inside your car.”
So far, Hyundai and Kia have given the department 500 of these steering wheel locks to give out. Drivers who came through the line had to show proof of residence, and proof that they owned a Hyundai or Kia.
“They do recognize that this is a problem, and they need to support their customers,” said Austin.
Drivers admitted the new locks would help give them peace of mind, and were hopeful it would deter any future problems. But recent experiences have clearly left some owners of those vehicles frustrated.
“I like my car,” said Slaughter, whose insurance rates have also gone up about $50 a month, leading to the question of whether she was ready to trade it in for something else.
“If I could, I would,” she admitted. “I’d trade it in a minute.”
Meanwhile, Rawlings is also having second thoughts.
“Honestly, I don’t even think I want the car back,” she said. “I don’t even want a Hyundai any more and I was a big representer for them. I would tell anybody. But I don’t think, at this point, if those cars being targeted, I don’t think I want another one.”