Car thefts on the rise: Tips from police to keep vehicles from being stolen

The Austin Police Department needs the public’s help identifying a thief who stole a Kia and crashed into a home. This comes as the number of auto thefts in Austin is on the rise, specifically Kia and Hyundais.

About a third of the vehicles being stolen in Austin are Kias and Hyundais.

Video showed a stolen white Kia Soul crashed into a home in East Austin, one of the suspects ran away, and two other vehicles, a Kia and Hyundai left quickly. All involved are believed to have been stolen vehicles. Police are looking for one of the suspects described as a Black male, curly black hair, and approximately 6 feet tall.

RELATED: Police searching for suspect involved in East Austin vehicle theft

This is just one of about 600 cases of Kias and Hyundais being stolen in Austin in the last six months. Investigators said the stolen cars are usually then used to commit violent felonies.

"These cases have grown significantly in a short amount of time, so we’re doing the best we can to work the case load that we have, but we do have a lot of cases, and we’re working as hard as we can to solve those cases," Austin Police Department Detective Francisco Jimenez said.

Investigators said these criminals are exploiting a "design vulnerability" in these vehicles, and with only a screwdriver and USB cable, they’re able to start and steal them.

"They did indeed use the USB to get in it," Alasha Bunton said about her stolen Hyundai.

In March, Bunton’s 2017 black Hyundai was stolen from her home in East Austin.

"Somewhere around, I want to say midnight, I heard a car, I didn’t know it was my car at the time, but I heard a car burning rubber," Bunton said.

Her mom was the first person to notice her car was gone.

"She was like, ‘Alasha, where is your car?’ And I'm like, 'you're kidding? My car should be there' and she's like, 'no, I'm serious. Like, where is your car at?' And I'm like, 'I'm dead serious. It's parked on the street,' so I'm thinking she's joking with me this whole time. No, not at all. I go outside, I go up to the hill where my car was parked, there's broken glass everywhere," Bunton said.

Bunton’s car was eventually found less than a week later when someone called it in the APD because the window was smashed.

"They left their hoodie in my back seat and after talking with the cops more and more I started to get that they're really not going to do anything about it," Bunton said.

Her vehicle has been in the shop ever since.

"Everything is like back ordered and everybody's car at this point is getting stolen left and right. There's a shortage on parts," Bunton said.

Detectives are encouraging owners of Kias and Hyundais to get a steering wheel lock, a tracking system, or alarm system.

"This is a completely well-known thing for anybody that wants to take advantage of that, so at this point we want people who have those cars to know how vulnerable they are, and we'd be doing a diservice if we didn't tell them," Austin Police Department Detective Julian Ogle said.

Detectives said based off footage of these thefts, it’s usually juveniles committing this crime. It is a felony if caught stealing a vehicle.

In a recent CrimeWatch, FOX 7 Austin's Meredith Aldis found that the number of auto thefts in Austin is up almost 18 percent this March compared to last March. She spoke to one man whose vehicle was stolen and taken on quite the journey.