Hyundai, Kia update security after TikTok challenge thefts

Chicago is among the cities that have experienced a spike in thefts of certain models of those brands, which are being used to commit other crimes.

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Security software upgrades are beginning to roll out for owners of certain Hyundai and Kia vehicles that are being targeted by thieves.


Hyundai and Kia are rolling out software updates to stem a raft of auto thefts related to a TikTok challenge that authorities believe has led to at least 14 reported crashes and eight fatalities.

The updates are free for millions of vehicles that are missing a key anti-theft device, an issue that was exploited on social media and led to rampant theft of the cars.

The software being released fixes the theft alarm software logic to extend the length of the alarm sound from 30 seconds to one minute and requires the key to be in the ignition switch to turn the vehicle on.

About 3.8 million Hyundais and 4.5 million Kias are eligible for the software update, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said Tuesday.

Hyundai said updates begin Tuesday for nearly 4 million vehicles beginning with 1 million model year 2017-2020 Elantra, 2015-2019 Sonata and 2020-2021 Venue models. The software upgrade is scheduled to be available for the remaining eligible vehicles by June.

“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,” said Randy Parker, chief executive of Hyundai Motor America.

In September the Highway Loss Data Institute, a unit of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, found that Hyundais and Kias without immobilizers had a vehicle theft claim rate of 2.18 per 1,000 insured vehicle years. The rest of the industry combined had a rate of 1.21. An insured vehicle year is equal to one vehicle insured for one year.

The institute compared vehicles from the 2015 through 2019 model years. It studied vehicle theft claims from 2021. Hyundai says all models produced after Nov. 1, 2021, have immobilizers as standard equipment.

Insurance giants State Farm and Progressive temporarily stopped accepting new customer applications in some states for certain models made by both brands because of the thefts.

Chicago is one of the cities that has experienced a spike in thefts of those vehicles, but the companies haven’t said whether Illinois was among the affected states.

Last month, the Chicago Police Department announced that vehicle thefts, robberies and catalytic converter thefts had spiked across the city. Police determined that Kia and Hyundai vehicles are among the most frequently stolen and are being used to commit violent crimes.

Other areas around the city have also seen a similar pattern. On Sunday, a man was killed after his vehicle was struck by a stolen Kia occupied by three 13-year-olds in south suburban Robbins.

In August, the Cook County sheriff’s office warned residents of a spike in thefts of those vehicles, urging owners to take precautions. Between July 2022 and early August, there was a 767% increase in thefts of Kia and Hyundai vehicles in the county, compared with the same period in 2021.

A TikTok social media challenge put a spotlight on the vehicles’ lack of an immobilizer and resulted in at least 14 reported crashes and eight fatalities, according to NHTSA. The challenge shows TikTok viewers how to hot-wire Kia and Hyundai cars with a USB cord and a screwdriver.

Hyundai and Kia will start software updates later this month, with subsequent phases over the next several months. Hyundai will also provide window stickers to vehicle owners that alert would-be thieves that the vehicles have anti-theft protection.

Vehicle owners can contact Hyundai at (800) 633-5151 and Kia at (800) 333-4542 for information on the software update.

Contributing: Emmanuel Camarillo

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