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Over the last decade, Hyundai and Kia innovated their lineup to become some of the most desirable mass-market vehicles. Unfortunately, they’re a little too alluring as the manufacturers forgot to innovate one thing. Although traditional ignitions are cheaper to produce than their keyless counterparts, it leaves vehicles vulnerable to car thefts. And that mechanical weakness exploited by the infamous Kia Boys is set to cost hundreds of millions of dollars in a class action lawsuit.

Hyundai and Kia car thefts could cost $600 million

California's Central U.S. District Court is where the infamous Kia boys car theft saga will play out
U.S. District Courthouse in Los Angeles, California | Xinhua via Getty Images

Beginning in late 2021, popular TikTok postings of car theft tutorials targeted Hyundai and Kia cars nationwide. Thousands of vehicle owners across the country were victims of the “Kia Boys” trend. In some metropolitan areas, thefts of Hyundai and Kia vehicles make up the majority of vehicular crimes. Subsequently, cities and state governments have joined one of the largest automotive class action lawsuits in history, and it now has a price tag.

In a filing to California’s Central U.S. Court District, a “preliminary benchmark” of approximately $500-$600 million is named. Representatives of plaintiffs in the class action suit claim, “It is difficult to provide a scientific estimate of aggregate payments for collective thefts of the Class Vehicles which have or will be paid by the entire insurance industry at this stage.” However, they assert the above figure is a “reasonable estimate of the total damages to the class, excluding exemplary damages, costs, and attorneys’ fees.”

As of April 2023, the indemnity payments for the losses sustained amount to more than $190 million. As more vehicle owners join, the attorneys explain that the losses could exceed $300 million.

Who are the Kia Boys?

Whether you spell the plural noun with “z” or an “s,” the name of the game remains the same. Originating in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the Kia Boys quickly evolved from youths teaching and encouraging others to steal Hyundai and Kia cars into a misappropriated badge of honor.  

Viral videos shared on social media showed individuals gaining access to the inside of the vehicles. Then, the miscreants exposed the interior of the steering column and dismantled the ignition assembly. A USB cable is then placed on the ignition tumbler and turned, thus starting the engine and disengaging the internal steering wheel lock. Hyundai and Kia cars are specifically targeted because of their lack of immobilizer.

Which Hyundai and Kia cars don’t have immobilizer?

Parent company Hyundai Motor Group has not released the makes and models that don’t have a factory-installed immobilizer. However, Forbes reports the following lack anti-theft technology.

  • Hyundai Accent, Elantra, Palisade, Santa Fe, Sonata, Tucson, Veloster, and Venue vehicles built between 2016 and 2021.
  • Kia Forte, Niro, Optima, Rio, Soul Sportage, Telluride vehicles built between 2011 and 2021.

The above vehicles are “about 70% less likely to be stolen compared to vehicles without immobilizers,” according to the court filing. Despite the criminality of the car thefts, nearly two dozen state attorneys general have urged the federal government to investigate possible manufacturer defects.

Hyundai and Kia cars built before November 1, 2021, don’t have engine ignition immobilizers as standard equipment. Speculation has risen regarding the company’s potentially cutting costs by not including them.

How to protect yourself from the Kia Boys TikTok trend?

Hyundai has already offered anti-theft software to over one million vehicles. However, millions more affected vehicles are pending the upgrade in the already slow action by the parent company. The NHTSA (National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration) says the companies have also worked with state and local law enforcement agencies. Beginning in November 2022, the manufacturers started supplying authorities in at least 12 states with over 26,000 steering wheel locks.

For Hyundai and Kia owners that have yet to receive a steering wheel lock or anti-theft software upgrade, there isn’t much to do to mitigate the chances of being a victim. Using common sense with parking locations isn’t guaranteed as bold criminal activity continues. Nevertheless, some have encouraged hiding a tracking device like an AirTag somewhere in the vehicle. It will at least increase the chances of finding a stolen vehicle.

Does Kia have a ‘Kia Boys’ vulnerability?

According to a letter from the OAG (Office of the California Attorney General) to the NHTSA, government officials claim Hyundai and Kia failed to comply with Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards with a manufacturer defect that “pos[es] an unreasonable risk to motor vehicle safety.” The OAG reiterated the public frustration following the release of steering wheel locks. 

“A review of publicly available complaints in NHTSA’s database underscores the damage this has inflicted on vehicle owners,” they said. The attorneys general added, “Many of whom are burdened with significant out-of-pocket costs and delay to repair their stolen vehicles (if successfully recovered), or to obtain alternative means of transportation—not to mention the disruption to daily life caused by having one’s car stolen.”

Moreover, they reveal that Hyundai and Kia know they cannot remedy all the vehicles involved, which now number over eight million. “Hyundai has acknowledged that approximately 15% of the affected vehicles cannot accommodate the software updates, and Kia has also confirmed that some unspecified number of affected vehicles cannot receive the updates,” the letter emphasizes.

It’s important to note that the preliminary sums do not include any claims from municipalities. Metropolitan areas have dumped years’ worth of extra resources into patrolling, theft recoveries, and more. Therefore, as the situation advances, Hyundai and Kia could be ordered to pay over $1 billion in damages.


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