Kia and Hyundai are rolling out software upgrades for models targeted by a viral challenge that taught people how to steal them

  • Kia and Hyundai are rolling out a free anti-theft software upgrade for models targeted by thieves.
  • A group called the “Kia Boyz” started a viral TikTok challenge showing how to start the cars using a USB cord.
  • The trend led to State Farm and Progressive no longer insuring some models in certain cities.

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Kia and Hyundai are starting to roll out free anti-theft software upgrades for car models that have been targeted by a viral social media challenge that teaches people how to steal them.

Some Kia models from 2011 to 2021 and some Hyundai models from 2016 to 2021 use traditional keys, which means they don’t have electronic immobilizers in them to prevent the cars from starting if there’s no key present.

A group of teens from Milwaukee, Wisconsin called the “Kia Boyz” started a TikTok challenge teaching people how to start the cars using just a screwdriver and a USB charging cable, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. Police started noticing the car-stealing trend in late 2020, Milwaukee Police Chief Jeffrey Norman told The Wall Street Journal.

Eligible car owners are being notified by Kia and Hyundai about how to get the free upgrades. The upgrade takes less than an hour to install, both vehicle manufacturers said. 

In a press release from Hyundai, the car manufacturer said the 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 popularized theft mode,” Hyundai said.

Car owners can deactivate the “ignition kill” feature by unlocking their car with the key fob. 

Some Kia car owners have already received a software upgrade, and other owners will be able to get the upgrade in the next few months, Kia said in a statement shared with Insider. The car manufacturer added that steering wheel locks are also available at no cost through some local law enforcement agencies.

“The company remains concerned about incidents of car theft targeting certain Kia models, encouraged in some cases by social media content promoting criminal conduct, and is committed to supporting law enforcement and

owners in addressing these crimes,” Kia said in the statement.

Hyundai said in its press release that the upgrade will go out to almost 4 million vehicles beginning February 14. The 2017 to 2020 Elantra, 2015 to 2019 Sonata, and 2020 to 2021 Venue vehicles will get the upgrade first.

“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,” Randy Parker, CEO of Hyundai Motor America, said in the press release. 

Cars that receive the software upgrade will also get a window decal “to alert would-be thieves that the vehicle is equipped with enhanced anti-theft technology,” Hyundai said. Other vehicles will be eligible for the upgrade beginning in June, including different models of the Elantra, Sonata, and Santa Fe.

Since 2021, thefts of Kia and Hyundai vehicles have been climbing throughout the country, according to a report from the Highway Loss Data Institute.

Car thefts in Denver have risen by 160% since 2018, and most of the thefts are Kia and Hyundai cars, Denver7 reported. Claims of stolen cars were almost twice as common for Kia and Hyundai models from 2015 to 2019 compared to all other car makes, according to the HLDI report.

Theft rates for some Kia and Hyundai models are so high that State Farm and Progressive temporarily stopped writing insurance policies for some of the models in some cities last month.

“Given that we price our policies based on the level of risk they represent, this explosive increase in thefts in many cases makes these vehicles extremely challenging for us to insure,” Jeff Sibel, a spokesperson for Progressive, told CNN last month. “In response, in some geographic areas we have increased our rates and limited our sale of new insurance policies on some of these models.” 

The insurance companies did not reply to requests for comment from Insider.

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