Kia and Hyundai vehicles have leapt to the top of “most stolen” lists following a viral video published on TikTok demonstrating how to break the steering column. Once broken, certain models can be started using a USB device as a key.
The videos sparked a “Kia Challenge” in which young men post videos of themselves committing felony auto theft that has spread around the country.
The problem is limited to Kia products made between 2011 and 2021 and Hyundai products from 2016-2021 that use a plain metal key to start the vehicle. Vehicles that rely on a coded key fob and push-button starter are not subject to this exploit.
In general, this means of car theft has been well-known since cars first received keys as a security measure in 1910. Simply put, if a thief can break the lock on the keyway, then any tool that can turn the ignition switch to the “On” position will work to start the vehicle.
I’m bad, I’m nationwide
The problem appeared to start in Milwaukee, Wisconsin with groups of “Kia Boys” stealing cars and joyriding. Someone posted a how-to video to TikTok, and the practice began to spread, first across the upper Midwest, then around the country. TikTok has since deleted the original video, but the exploit is easy enough that thieves took note.
“They tell us they learned it on the internet or learned it from another friend, those persons get arrested, they go to jail and tell the other people, and it continues to spread like wildfire,” said Sergeant Cody Lance of the St. Petersburg, Florida police department. According to a NICB report, 40% of the cars stolen in the second half of July in St. Petersburg were Kias and Hyundais.
The phenomenon started in 2021, but it has only recently become widely known. News reports have come not only from Wisconsin and Florida, but also Colorado, California, Michigan and Ohio, as well as many other locations.
Naturally, Kia and Hyundai are not happy about this particular kind of publicity.
“While all of our vehicles meet or exceed Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, unfortunately, our vehicles have been targeted in a coordinated effort on social media,” said Ira Gabriel, senior group manager for Corporate and Marketing PR at Hyundai Motor America. “Criminals are targeting our vehicles without engine immobilizers. Immobilizers became standard on all vehicles produced after Nov. 1, 2021.”
Officials at Kia America expressed similar sentiments.
“While no car can be made theft-proof, criminals are seeking vehicles solely equipped with a steel key and ‘turn-to-start’ ignition system,” said James Bell, head of corporate communications for Kia America. “The majority of Kia vehicles in the United States are equipped with a key fob and ‘push-button-to-start’ system, making them more difficult to steal. All 2022 Kia models and trims have an immobilizer applied either at the beginning of the model year or as a running change.”
If you love it, lock it
If your Kia or Hyundai could be subject to this kind of theft, using an aftermarket steering lock may discourage thieves looking for an easy target. Unfortunately, demand for steering locks has outstripped supply in many areas.
Hyundai and Kia are stepping up with some assistance, while some vehicle owners are filing suit.
“Hyundai has been working with and will continue to support local police departments to make steering wheel locks available for affected Hyundai owners,” Gabriel told TheDetroitBureau.com. “Additionally, Hyundai has identified a Firstech/Compustar security kit that targets the method of entry thieves are using to access these vehicles. Beginning Oct. 1, 2022, this security kit will be available for purchase and installation at Hyundai dealerships and Compustar authorized installers across the country.”
Hyundai has not offered to install the security kit free of charge to affected customers.
“Kia America has provided steering wheel lock devices at no cost to law enforcement in affected areas to deter vandalism and theft,” Bell said. “That effort will continue in close coordination with local police departments for distribution to concerned owners of Kia vehicles not originally equipped with an immobilizer.”
Both Kia and Hyundai advised concerned vehicle owners to contact their customer assistance centers.
“Hyundai will provide additional details soon,” Gabriel said, “and customers who have questions can always contact the Hyundai Consumer Assistance Center at 800-633-5151.”
“Kia customers with questions regarding their specific vehicle should contact the Consumer Assistance center directly at 1-800-333-4542(4Kia),” Bell stated.