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A rash of car thefts has plagued U.S. cities for two years. Someone you know has likely brought it up – Kia and Hyundai vehicles are easy to steal. There’s more than a bit of truth to the stories. In fact, according to reports, theft rates among Kia and Hyundai vehicles have risen hundreds of percentage points over the last two years. And it all started with a post to the video-sharing app TikTok.

Why are Hyundai and Kia Cars being stolen?

A detailed report from Business Insider shares that the trend began due to a viral how-to video posted to TikTok in 2021. Known as the “Kia Challenge,” the video explains that Hyundai and Kia models from specific model years have a vulnerability that makes them particularly easy to steal. All a thief needs is a USB cord. 

Business Insider reports that most Kia models produced since 2011 and Hyundai models made since 2015 lack electronic immobilizers. This kind of technology requires a unique chip in a vehicle’s key fob for ignition. Cars with electronic immobilizers are more difficult to hot wire, according to Business Insider. 

Without electronic immobilizers, many models from the Korean manufacturers are left vulnerable. It’s the exact weakness that the TikTok Kia Challenge exploits, explaining that thieves can remove a steering column panel, plug in a USB cord, and start driving.

According to Business Insider, the original video was quickly removed. But copies and copycats continue to pop up on the app.  

Where are Kia and Hyundai thefts happening?

Hyundai and Kia’s thefts have spiked all over the country, according to Business Insider. Its report shares details: 

  • Milwaukee has seen the two brands comprise 70 percent of its car thefts since 2022. 
  • A full 50 percent of Chicago’s thefts have included the pair. 
  • Portland, OR, saw Kia thefts rise by 916 percent and Hyundai thefts by 758 percent between January 2022 and January 2023. 
  • Police departments from Seattle and Los Angeles explicitly linked the thefts to the TikTok Kia Challenge. 

These are just a few examples of the trend’s effects on U.S. cities. The situation has developed to the point where Progressive and State Farm have started denying insurance policies for vulnerable models in heavily affected areas. 

Are Hyundai and Kia offering fixes?

A white Kia Optima sits on the floor of an auto show. The Optima is among various models at risk for theft after a viral TikTok trend.
Kia Optima | Kevin Hagen, Getty Images

Kia and Hyundai have implemented electronic immobilizers across all new vehicles in response to the TikTok thefts. They’re also offering free software updates to help combat the thefts. However, neither brand has gone as far as to offer a full recall for the immobilizer issue in older models. Per Business Insider, Kia and Hyundai claim that they fulfilled their legal safety and security requirements during the development of each model. 

“Potential lawsuits against Kia by municipalities are without merit,” a Kia spokesperson stated to Insider. “All Kia vehicles are subject to and comply fully with rigorous testing rules and regulations outlined in the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards.”

Some disagree with the claim, however. Owners have filed multiple class action suits against Hyundai and Kia. 

The TikTok Kia Challenge is a continuing story. Whether Hyundai or Kia offers a complete fix or a recall remains to be seen.