TikTok challenge showing how to hot-wire cars with usb cord and screwdriver prompt security updates from Kia, Hyundai

A challenge on the social media platform TikTok highlighted the vehicles’ lack of an immobilizer theft prevention device and showed users how to hot-wire Kia and Hyundai cars with a USB cord and a screwdriver.

Ari Hoffman Seattle WA
Hyundai and Kia are pushing out free software updates for millions of vehicles in an effort to stop a spike in auto thefts related to a TikTok challenge. Authorities believe that the thefts have led to at least 14 crashes and eight fatalities.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said Tuesday that approximately 3.8 million Hyundais and 4.5 million Kias are eligible for the update.

According to the Associated Press, the vehicles are missing an anti-theft device. The flaw was revealed on social media and led to a spike in thefts. The software will update a vulnerable vehicle’s alarm software to extend the length of the alarm sound from 30 seconds to one minute and requires the key to be in the ignition to start the vehicle.

A challenge on the social media platform TikTok highlighted the vehicles’ lack of an immobilizer theft prevention device and showed users how to hot-wire Kia and Hyundai cars with a USB cord and a screwdriver.

According to the NHTSA, the thefts resulted in at least 14 reported crashes and eight fatalities.

A police commissioner in Buffalo, New York said that a car crash of a stolen Kia in his jurisdiction in October that killed four teens may have been linked to the TikTok challenge.

Some police departments in the US are offering free steering wheel locks for affected Kia and Hyundai models in order to deter the thefts. 

Last month, Seattle City Attorney Ann Davison filed a lawsuit against the carmakers for their alleged role in an exponential increase of car theft in the city for failing to install the anti-theft technology.

According to the suit, thefts of affected Kia and Hyundai models increased by 363 percent and 503 percent, respectively, in Seattle and the Seattle Police Department reported a 620 percent increase in reports of stolen Hyundais and Kias in July 2022 over the previous year. 

Davison claimed that Kia and Hyundai were aware of the safety concerns resulting from the massive spike in thefts of their vehicles, but "they have not taken meaningful steps to address the problem."

Davison said in a statement, "Kia and Hyundai chose to cut corners and cut costs at the expense of their customers and the public. As a result, our police force has had to tackle a huge rise in vehicle theft and related problems with already stretched resources. Now Seattle taxpayers must shoulder the burden of the increase in theft."

Hyundais and Kias without the features had a vehicle theft claim rate of 2.18 per 1,000 insured vehicle years while the rest of the auto industry combined had a rate of 1.21, according to the Highway Loss Data Institute.

Hyundai announced that the updates began on Tuesday, starting with a million vehicles model year 2017-2020 Elantra, 2015-2019 Sonata, and 2020-2021 Venue, and should be rolled out to the remaining vulnerable vehicles by June.

Randy Parker, CEO of Hyundai Motor America said, "We have prioritized the upgrade’s availability for owners and lessees of our highest-selling vehicles and those most targeted by thieves in order for dealers to service them first."

The company stated that all models produced after Nov. 1, 2021, have the theft prevention features as standard equipment.

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