Hyundai and Kia Are Giving Away Free Locks After Targeting By Car Thieves

Car thefts driven by social media made Hyundai and Kia an easy target. Now the brands are offering free steering-wheel locks and anti-theft upgrades to millions.

Hyundai Motor Co., the parent company of Hyundai and Kia, announced new measures to prevent car thefts after viral social media videos pointed out how easy it was to steal certain models due to a design flaw. Hyundai will distribute free steering-wheel locks and update the anti-theft software on about 4 million vehicles nationwide.

“In response to increasing thefts targeting its vehicles without push-button ignitions and immobilizing anti-theft devices in the United States, Hyundai is introducing a free anti-theft software upgrade to prevent the vehicles from starting during a method of theft popularized on TikTok and other social media channels,” said the company in a statement.

The free upgrade will be performed by Hyundai dealers and will take less than one hour for installation, according to the company. Window decals will also be affixed to cars to alert would-be thieves that it has been updated with anti-theft technology.

Why Are Hyundai and Kia Offering Steering Wheel Locks?

The move is in response to viral videos on TikTok that showed certain Hyundai and Kia models are susceptible to old-fashioned hot-wiring, like in an old heist movie. This was surprising because today’s high-tech key fobs and engine immobilizing devices supposedly made hot-wiring a thing of the past. It turns out that some late-model Kias and Hyundais were produced without an immobilizer, and thieves are taking advantage across the country.

Before social media, this design flaw may have boosted local thefts, driven by word of mouth among car thieves. But thanks to—what else?—a TikTok trend called the “Kia Challenge,” Kia and Hyundai thefts skyrocketed compared to other makes and models. The “Kia Boyz” steal the vehicles and rack up views, sometimes with disastrous results.

In Milwaukee, 57% of car thefts so far in 2022 have been Kias and Hyundais. Fifty-five percent of St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department stolen vehicle incident reports involve Hyundais and Kias, while St. Louis County saw a tenfold increase in thefts of both brands this year over last year, according to police spokespersons. In some states, such as Louisiana, insurance companies refused to insure theft-prone models.

More dangerously, the viral TikTok social media challenge has resulted in at least 14 reported crashes and eight fatalities.

Why Are Kia and Hyundai Targets?

When you enter your car with your key fob, a computer chip in the car senses the chip in the fob and starts the car. If you don’t have the fob or try to bypass the car’s security features, the engine won’t turn over. Many Hyundais and Kias lack this immobilization device, according to the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI).

As late as 2015, when 92 percent of cars on the road had anti-theft engine immobilizers, only 26 percent of Hyundais and Kias did. (Hyundai is the parent company of Kia, although they operate independently.)

Without the chip, thieves can simply pop off a cover, break apart the ignition and turn the cylinder, usually with a USB cable end. Call it modern-day hot-wiring, even though no wiring is involved.

Police departments have taken notice. Sergeant Tracy Panus of the St. Louis County P.D. says “yes, absolutely” the social media trend is driving the stolen vehicle numbers. So does Evita Caldwell, public information officer for the St. Louis Metropolitan P.D.

What Models Are Affected and Eligible for Upgrade?

Kias and Hyundais with a traditional key instead of a fob are the targets of this trend. This includes Hyundais produced between 2016 and 2021, and Kias between 2011 and 2021, according to Forbes.

Models eligible for the safety upgrade are:

  • 2017-2020 Elantra
  • 2015-2019 Sonata
  • 2020-2021 Venue
  • 2018-2022 Accent
  • 2011-2016 Elantra
  • 2021-2022 Elantra
  • 2018-2020 Elantra GT
  • 2011-2014 Genesis Coupe
  • 2018-2022 Kona

Both Kia and Hyundai stress their cars meet or exceed all federal safety standards. Hyundai said in a statement that immobilizers are now standard on cars produced after Nov.1, 2021, while Kia added immobilizers for the 2022 model year.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration urges owners of these vehicles to contact Hyundai (toll-free at 800-633-5151) or Kia (toll-free at 800-333-4542) for information on the free update.

How To Prevent Kia and Hyundai Theft

If you drive a Kia or Hyundai without a key fob, take precautions. Short of buying a new car, here are the solutions available:

The Club

Panus suggest using the anti-theft device the Club, which slides over your car’s steering wheel and prevents a thief from turning the wheel. Caldwell agrees. “We have not seen an instance where a vehicle was stolen with a car club attached to the steering wheel,” she says, “so car clubs have proven to be an effective solution thus far.”

Aftermarket security kit

Hyundai recommends customers install the Compustar remote start and security kit, available at Hyundai dealerships or through Compustar directly. But Hyundai won’t cover the cost. Expect to pay several hundred dollars for this security feature and the installation.

Remove the temptation

While the Kia Boyz target easy-to-steal Hyundais and Kias, there are still things you can do to make car theft more difficult. “Park in a garage if possible, and do not leave keys in vehicles,” says Panus. Many car thefts are simply crimes of opportunity, so keep your vehicle out of sight if possible.

Ally Childress
Ally Childress is a licensed electrician and freelance writer living in Dallas, Texas.