Hyundai, Kia to Thwart Car Thefts by Targeting Crime Method Popularized on TikTok

Lorenz Duchamps
By Lorenz Duchamps
February 14, 2023Business News
Hyundai, Kia to Thwart Car Thefts by Targeting Crime Method Popularized on TikTok
(Left) The logo of Kia Motors in Seoul, South Korea, on Dec. 13, 2017. (AP Photo); (Right) The Hyundai logo displayed on a brand new Hyundai Santa Fe SUV at a Hyundai dealership in Colma, Calif., on April 7, 2017. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Hyundai and Kia are rolling out “theft deterrent software” for millions of car owners in the United States amid reports that a viral social media trend has led to an increase in thefts of its vehicles that lack push-button ignitions and immobilizing anti-theft devices.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said in a statement on Tuesday that the effort is in response to a TikTok challenge that has spread nationwide and “has resulted in at least 14 reported crashes and eight fatalities.”

These viral videos, which have been circulating on the Chinese-owned social media platform since May, show viewers how to hot-wire into Hyundai and Kia vehicles made between 2010 and 2021 with a USB cord and a screwdriver.

Nearly four million Hyundais and four and a half million Kias are eligible for the software update, according to auto safety regulators. The new anti-theft system upgrades the theft alarm software logic to extend the length of the alarm sound from 30 seconds to 60 seconds and requires the key to be in the ignition switch to turn the vehicle on.

Starting on Feb. 14, Hyundai dealers in the United States will begin to install the free software “for a total of almost four million vehicles,” the company said in a news release, noting that the installation “will take less than one hour.”

The initial upgrade will cover more than one million model-years 2017–20 Elantra, 2015–19 Sonata, and 2020–21 Venue vehicles. The software upgrade is scheduled to be available for the remaining eligible vehicles by June.

In addition, Hyundai will also provide customers with window stickers to alert would-be thieves that the vehicle is equipped with enhanced anti-theft technology.

“Hyundai is committed to ensuring the quality and integrity of our products through continuous improvement, and is pleased to provide affected customers with an additional theft deterrent through this software upgrade,” Randy Parker, CEO of Hyundai Motor America, said in the release. “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.”

The South Korean manufacturer is also offering free steering wheel locks to law enforcement agencies for distribution to Americans who own or lease any of the affected models.

For those who own vehicles model-years 2011–22 and aren’t eligible for the software upgrade, Hyundai said it is “finalizing a program to reimburse them for their purchase of steering wheel locks,” noting that the company will provide these customers with more information “in the very near future.”

Kia, meanwhile, will begin to roll out free software updates in a phased approach, according to the NHTSA. The agency, which is part of the U.S. Department of Transportation, said the vehicle manufacturer will begin to update vehicles later this month, with ensuing phases throughout the next several months.

The NHTSA urges vehicle owners to contact Hyundai at 800-633-5151 and Kia at 800-333-4542 if they have any questions related to the software update.

Hyundai, Kia Theft

According to an analysis of 2021 insurance claims by the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI), a few models of Hyundai and Kia were found to be the top targets. Among vehicles model-years 2015–19, the chances of theft claims were twice as common when compared to other manufacturers, HLDI found.

NTD Photo
A Kia damaged after being stolen is seen at an auto repair shop in Milwaukee, Wis., on Jan. 27, 2021. (Angela Peterson/Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel via AP)

“Car theft spiked during the pandemic,” said HLDI senior vice president Matt Moore, according to a Sept. 22nd post by the nonprofit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). “These numbers tell us that some vehicles may be targeted because they’re fast or worth a lot of money and others because they’re easy to steal.”

“Our earlier studies show that vehicle theft losses plunged after immobilizers were introduced … Unfortunately, Hyundai and Kia have lagged behind other automakers in making them standard equipment.”

Electronic immobilizing anti-theft devices prevent criminals from easily breaking in and bypassing a car’s ignition. In 2015, immobilizers were found to be a standard feature among 96 percent of car manufacturers, except for Hyundai and Kia. Among the two brands, only 26 percent of the models were found to have immobilizers.

Epoch Times reporter Naveen Athrappully contributed to this report.

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