In retaliation to a rash of car thefts inspired by a viral social media challenge on TikTok, Hyundai and Kia Motors offer free software updates for millions of their cars.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the newly viral “Kia Challenge” on Tiktok has led to hundreds of car thefts all over the US, comprising at least 14 reported crashes and eight fatalities. Thieves, known as “the Kia Boyz”, would post instructional videos about bypassing the vehicles’ security system using tools as simple as a USB cable.
The thefts are allegedly simple to pull off as many 2015-2019 Hyundai and Kia models lack electronic immobilisers that prevent thieves from simply breaking in and bypassing the ignition. The feature is standard equipment on nearly all vehicles from the same time made by other manufacturers.
The two automakers are offering to update the “theft alarm software logic” to extend the length of the alarm sound from 30 seconds to one minute. The vehicles will also be upgraded to require a key in the ignition switch to turn the vehicle on.
The software update elevates several vehicle control modules on Hyundai vehicles equipped with standard “turn-key-to-start” ignition systems resulting in the locking of doors with the key fob, which will further set the factory alarm and caution an “ignition kill” feature so the vehicle cannot be started when the popularised theft mode is practised on them. Customers are supposed to use the key fob to unlock their vehicles to deactivate the “ignition kill” feature.
According to Hyundai, “The software upgrade modifies certain vehicle control modules on Hyundai vehicles equipped with standard “turn-key-to-start” ignition systems. As a result, locking the doors with the key fob will set the factory alarm and activate an “ignition kill” feature so the vehicles cannot be started when subjected to the popularised theft mode. Customers must use the key fob to unlock their vehicles to deactivate the ‘ignition kill’ feature.”
Until now, there hasn’t been a countrywide accounting of how many Hyundai and Kia vehicles have been stolen. Still, statistics from individual cities reveal some sense of how common the trend has become. For instance, in Milwaukee, police report that 469 Kias and 426 Hyundais were stolen in 2020. According to NPR, those numbers surged the next year to 3,557 Kias and 3,406 Hyundais. Around 3.8 million Hyundais and 4.5 million Kias are eligible for the software update free of charge, for a total of 8.3 million cars.
This week onwards, owners of 2017-2020 Elantra, 2015-2019 Sonata, and 2020-2021 Venue vehicles qualify for the update. Moreover, other models, consisting of Kona, Palisade, and Santa Fe vehicles, will be serviced from June 2023. Customers can input their vehicle’s VIN at the Hyundai website to find the available slot for the upgrade. Kia will roll out its updated schedule later this month.
Earlier, Hyundai charged owners at least $170 for security kits to fix the issue. With installation and labour, costs are likely to reach $500. Hyundai and Kia were also offering some owners wheel locks to prevent thefts. As per NTSA, the companies have handed out around 26,000 wheel locks since November last year.