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Blog category: Driving

Kia, Hyundai, and the TikTok Challenge

5 min read

Since the pandemic, the US has experienced a surge in vehicle thefts in cities across the nation. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), between late 2021 and late 2022, metro areas like New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles saw spikes of over 150 percent in vehicle thefts. Certain Hyundai and Kia models have topped the list of cars stolen at an alarming rate.

Vehicle theft usually happens for several reasons: The targeted model is either fast, expensive, or easy to steal. According to a report from the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI), the recent uptick in Kia and Hyundai thefts is predominately due to the fact that they’re (much) easier to steal. Among Kia models manufactured between 2011 and 2019 and Hyundai models made between 2015 and 2019, theft claims were almost double for some of the models compared to other car makes.

Why Kia and Hyundai?

Due to a set of conditions specific to certain models produced by the South Korean automakers, you have a recipe for disaster. First, the vehicles in question were designed with standard keys and locks instead of electronic fobs, making entry infinitely easier. Additionally, these same models were built without — what comes standard in most other car makes — an engine immobilizer.

Electronic immobilizers perform an invaluable function in theft prevention — they stop would-be thieves from bypassing the ignition to hotwire the vehicle. According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB), earlier studies show that vehicle thefts plunged after immobilizers were introduced.

Unfortunately, Hyundai and Kia have lagged behind other automakers in making this device standard equipment. Data from the HLDI confirms this lag from the sister auto companies. Since the early 2000s, immobilizers have been standard in more than 60 percent of other manufacturers’ models. That number has grown to 96 percent in recent years, compared to only 26 percent of Kia and Hyundai vehicles.

Social Media Platforms

The final part of the trifecta involves the viral reach of social media and, in particular, the burgeoning popularity of the TikTok platform. Videos called “the Kia Challenge,” posted by users on TikTok are responsible in large part for the increase in car thefts around the country.

The videos share instructions on how to steal a car by hotwiring it. The video-makers specifically show how to target Hyundais and Kias by breaking the steering column and connecting a USB charging cord. Even though TikTok removed the video as soon as it became aware, the damage was already done, and the amplified “how-to” video and challenge to steal spread across the country.

The biggest perpetrators are, apparently, teenage boys — the so-called “Kia Boys” who most often steal a car, take it for a joyride and then abandon it. They may start as joyrides, but some of the incidents have become dangerous due to reckless driving and collisions. Tragically, both bystanders and suspects have been seriously injured or killed in some cases.

Nationwide Concern

In the spring of 2023, California Attorney General, Rob Bonta, as part of a coalition of 18 states, sent a letter to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) calling for a federal recall of Hyundai and Kia vehicles manufactured between 2011 and 2022. This letter follows an earlier communication sent to Kia America and Hyundai Motor Company expressing serious concerns regarding both companies’ failure to adequately address the growing issue.

The letter calls on the federal government to step in since the two companies have failed to address the safety issues. AG Bonta’s letter on behalf of the coalition states in part, “The vehicles’ systems remain out of compliance and pose an unreasonable risk to public safety.”

Owners of the vulnerable models, in addition to the risk of theft, now face the possibility of being unable to buy auto insurance for their car. Some big-name insurance companies have declined to issue policies for the vehicles in question due to their increased risk of theft.

The Fix

Both Hyundai and Kia have taken action to address the issue of theft for their vehicles lacking an immobilizer. They have developed theft deterrent software that will be available free of charge to their customers. The software updates 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. Additionally, Hyundai will be providing its customers with a window sticker that alerts would-be thieves that the vehicle is equipped with anti-theft protection. If you're a concerned Hyundai or Kia owner, you can contact the companies for more information. Kia owners can call 800-333-4542, and Hyundai owners can find out more on the company’s US website or call 800-633-5151.

In addition to the software updates, Hyundai and Kia have also started to equip some of their newer models with electronic fobs and engine immobilizers as standard equipment. For example, the 2023 Hyundai Elantra and Sonata and the 2023 Kia Forte and Optima all come with electronic fobs and engine immobilizers.

However, for owners of older Kia and Hyundai models that lack these features, the software updates are a step in the right direction but may not fully solve the problem of theft. In some cases, owners may need to install additional security measures, such as steering wheel or brake locks, to deter thieves.

It's also worth noting that Kia and Hyundai are not the only automakers dealing with the issue of car thefts. As mentioned earlier, the NICB recommends that vehicle owners use multiple deterrents to protect their cars. This includes parking in well-lit areas, not leaving valuables in plain sight, and using physical deterrents like steering-wheel locks and alarms. By taking these precautions, car owners can significantly reduce their risk of becoming a victim of auto theft, regardless of the make and model of their vehicle.

To bolster your defense against car theft is carrying adequate insurance. Speak with a helpful Wawanesa agent who can advise you on whether you’ve got the coverage you need. It’s one less thing to worry about.

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The above content is for informational purposes only and is not a direct representation of coverages offered by Wawanesa or its policies. The information does not refer to any specific contract of insurance and does not modify any definitions, provisions, exclusions or limitations expressly stated in any contracts of insurance. All references within the above content are illustrative and may not apply to your situation. The terms and conditions of the actual insurance policy or policies involved in a claim are determinative as to whether an accident or other loss is covered. To understand the coverage under your current policy, please log into the account management platform to review your policy or contact an agent directly.

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