Complete News World

Hyundai/Kia theft problem: Car theft as a TikTok challenge

Hyundai/Kia theft problem: Car theft as a TikTok challenge

In the United States, thefts of Hyundai and Kia models have increased significantly over the past year, even for relatively new cars. This is due to the fact that some series of Korean models, which are still traditionally started by turning the key and not by pressing the button, are particularly easy to crack due to the lack of an immobilizer. This, in turn, led to another phenomenon: a “challenge” was created on the social network TikTok, in which users, mostly young people, are asked to break into Hyundai and Kia models and steal them.

I grew up in Milwaukee

Local police authorities are wary of calls to take cars on joyrides – often risky and dangerous – or even destroy them. According to the NHTSA, at least eight deaths have been reported. The NYPD has already published similar statements — some of which contain tips on how car owners can protect themselves from having their cars stolen. This sample tweet is from January 2, 2023:

Social media content

Recommended editorial content

At this point we show additional content that complements the article. Click the button to go to our mobile website.

This phenomenon originated in Milwaukee. In a city in Wisconsin, the TikTok challenge was allegedly started by a group of young people calling themselves “Kia Boys” in the summer of 2022. The wave then spread to other regions in the United States. According to media reports, the number of Hyundai and Kia thefts in Los Angeles rose by 85 percent, while in the Chicago area there was a staggering 936 percent increase.

Simple way to steal

The theft method, which US authorities say does not work on cars of other makes, seems too simple to be true: thieves can easily start cars by removing the panel behind the steering wheel with a screwdriver and inserting a USB there. – Connecting cables to a specific circuit. This is usually prevented by the electronic immobilizer, which must receive a signal from the key as a prerequisite for starting the engine. What makes matters worse is that there are now many videos circulating on the Internet that explain the theft trick.

© Instants via Getty Images

Car theft statistics 2021
Attention Berliners, watch your Kia

In fact, it took Hyundai and Kia a long time in the US to introduce immobilizers to their models across the board. “Our vehicles meet or exceed federal motor vehicle safety standards, and immobilizers have been standard equipment on all new Hyundai vehicles since November 2021,” Hyundai Motor America said in a statement. Kia America notes that all of the brand's vehicles sold in the USA have been equipped with the immobilizer since the 2022 model year. However, it is cars from earlier models that are primarily stolen. So far, neither Hyundai, Kia, nor NHTSA have implemented the recall.

Software upgrade as protection against theft

After all, Hyundai and Kia have been offering a technical solution as an antidote since the spring of 2023, almost half a year after the spate of thefts began. This is a free anti-theft software upgrade that is installed at authorized brand dealers within one hour and affects multiple vehicle control modules. When the car is locked using the remote control, the “Ignition Kill” function is activated, which ensures that it cannot be started unless it is unlocked again using the remote control. Opening and closing by turning the key is no longer possible. However, Hyundai promises that theft method can no longer be used. Stickers on windows should also alert potential thieves to improve.

© Hyundai

The 2015 to 2019 Sonata is one of the first Hyundai models to benefit from the new software upgrade.

Sister Korean brands want to protect nearly nine million vehicles from theft with a software update. Initially, there were more than a million copies of the frequently stolen Hyundai Elantra (model years 2017 to 2020), Sonata (2015 to 2019) and Venue (2020/21). Since June 2023, owners of additional series or model years are available. However, the software upgrade cannot be performed on some 2011 and 2022 model year vehicles without an immobilizer. For now, owners still have to make do with steering wheel locks or parking clutches, although car manufacturers are offering financial support to purchase them.

Hardware update

However, there seem to be models for which a software update is not enough. Kia has now developed a hardware update for these models. This is called cylinder protection: The ignition lock cylinder is now designed to be significantly more robust. This is intended to make unauthorized removal of the ignition interlock more difficult. A free update with new cylinder protection is available to all Kia owners in the USA whose models are not eligible for the software update. What these are is shown in the table below.


Recommended editorial content

At this point we show additional content that complements the article. Click the button to go to our mobile website.

Compensation amounts to hundreds of millions

Until Hyundai and Kia officially address the issue, a temporary solution introduced in the fall of 2022 had to be used: Compustar immobilizers can be updated in authorized workshops. The problem: Since there was no official recall, customers had to pay for it themselves. American media quoted lawyers from a law firm representing the owners of the cars in question in this regard. Lawyers indicate total costs of up to $750 (currently equivalent to about 698 euros), because in addition to the costs of spare parts and installation, the customer will have to cover them. Considering two and a half hours of action, a lot comes together.

© Hyundai RN22e

Hyundai RN22e
This is the Ioniq 6 N

In mid-May 2023, representatives of Hyundai and Kia in the United States announced that they would compensate those affected by the settlement with a total amount of $200 million (currently equivalent to about 186.2 million euros). On the one hand, the agreement provides for monetary compensation for vehicle losses resulting from theft or damage not covered by insurance. In addition, manufacturers offset rebates, increased insurance premiums, and other damages associated with theft. However, after initial approval, the judge has now rejected the agreement, meaning this process has now reached a dead end.

Insurance companies are suing automakers

However, it may be much more expensive for the Koreans because they are still fighting on another legal front. As early as March 2023, several American insurance companies filed a joint lawsuit against Korean automakers in Orange County, California. They are demanding that Hyundai and Kia repay the compensation figures already paid, which amount to about $190 million (about 177 million euros). In total, this amount could rise to about $600 million (about €559 million) if other insurers join the lawsuit.

© Hans-Dieter Seifert

Mention the Kia EV6 and Hyundai Ioniq 5
Electric cars can roll despite the parking brake

In addition, 17 US cities have filed lawsuits against Hyundai and Kia over the manufacturers' slow actions, including Milwaukee, New York, Cleveland, San Diego and Seattle. But the manufacturers do not want to accept this, which is why they asked the responsible judge to dismiss the lawsuit. In their justification, car manufacturers deny their own responsibility. According to Reuters, lawyers for Hyundai and Kia believe that they cannot be held responsible for the thefts because they resulted from an “unprecedented criminal phenomenon on social media.” In addition, “lax police and law enforcement policies” in cities as well as “budget decisions that reduced financial resources for public safety, car theft prevention, and reckless driving” contributed more to crime than the lack of an immobilizer.

What is the situation in Germany?

Another problematic side effect has long been apparent to customers of both automakers: some insurers refuse to insure models at risk. Anyone who actually owned such a car and insured it had to factor in significant inflation rates. Something like this is reported, for example, in the US city of St. Louis, Missouri, where the number of thefts of Hyundai and Kia cars increased by an incredible 1450 percent. However, residents of other cities are also affected by this problem.

Do Hyundai and Kia owners in Germany now fear that their cars will be easy prey for car thieves? Hyundai Germany reassures: “This appears to mainly affect models in the USA, which usually differ significantly from European models in terms of equipment and sales options or are not sold in Europe at all,” says the auto-motor website. -und-sport. . The sister brand also sees no problem for its customers in this country: “Since January 1, 1998, all newly registered cars in Germany must be equipped with an electronic immobilizer system (paragraph 38a StVZO), which prevents the type of unauthorized access referred to in the Challenge spokeswoman noted Kia is also constantly testing new ways to improve vehicle safety.

Note: In the photo display, we show you the models that were affected by the theft problem in the United States of America.


In Germany, the TikTok challenge surrounding stolen Hyundais and Kias has not been an issue so far. In the United States, they are larger, which is likely to cost car manufacturers dearly. Koreans are currently under legal attack from three directions: from individuals who own affected models, from insurance companies, and from city councils in 17 American cities. The outcome of these proceedings is currently completely open – billions in fines cannot be ruled out.

However, Kia is now responding with a hardware update: all models not suitable for the software update get a more powerful ignition lock cylinder. In addition, every owner of the affected Kia models can obtain a free steering wheel lock from their dealer.

This article may contain links to service providers from whom auto motor und sport may receive a commission (so-called “affiliate links”). More information here.