In brief: Owners of certain Kia and Hyundai vehicles can breathe a sigh of relief after the Korean car makers said they were rolling out software updates to address an issue that led to the “Kia challenge,” a viral TikTok trend that has resulted in multiple thefts, injuries, and deaths.
The Kia challenge began circulating on TikTok in the middle of 2021 and has been picking up steam ever since. The clips show how it’s possible to remove the steering column covering on some 2010-2021 Hyundai and Kia vehicles, revealing a slot that fits a USB-A plug. Turning the plug using a standard USB cable activates the ignition as the cars lack an immobilizer. Only vehicles that use a mechanical key rather than press-to-start ignition systems are susceptible to the technique.
CNBC reports that the challenge led to an 85% increase in the number of Hyundai and Kia vehicle thefts in Los Angeles in 2022 compared to the previous year, while police in St. Petersburg, Florida, say more than a third of thefts in the area between last July and September were related to the TikTok challenge. Chicago, meanwhile, saw thefts of these cars spike by 800%.
Yesterday, the United States National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced that the Kia challenge has been responsible for 14 reported crashes and eight fatalities.
Kia and its parent company Hyundai will soon push out free software updates that will require the key to be in the ignition switch to start affected vehicles. Both companies are rolling out the updates in a phased approach starting later this month. Hyundai is also providing its customers with a window sticker alerting would-be thieves that the vehicle is equipped with anti-theft protection, which will hopefully deter anyone looking to try the challenge.
Hyundai’s own advisory notes that almost 4 million vehicles will receive the update, with the upgrade rolling out first to more than 1 million model year 2017-2020 Elantra, 2015-2019 Sonata, and 2020-2021 Venue vehicles.
The NHTSA’s press release adds that both companies have been working with law enforcement agencies to provide more than 26,000 steering wheel locks since November 2022 to 77 law enforcement agencies in 12 states.