Certain models of the Kia and Hyundai car brand are being targeted across the country as car thieves participate in a viral social media challenge that encourages others to steal the vehicles using a simple USB cable. Even if the car is not successfully stolen, damage to the ignition comes with a financial burden some can’t afford. (Courtesy Photo)

By Megan Sayles,
AFRO Business Writer,

Kia and Hyundai drivers across the country are still reeling from the effects of a viral TikTok challenge, which provided a detailed demonstration on how to steal certain Hyundai and Kia vehicles without push button starts.  The automobile manufacturers agreed to a $200 million settlement to resolve a class action lawsuit filed by theft victims across the country in May. 

According to the complaint, the victims, represented by Hagens Berman, alleged that Hyundai and Kia failed to install engine immobilizers that prevent theft in millions of their vehicles. They also claimed that certain vehicles had design flaws such as loose collars and casings in the steering column and ignition lock cylinders without locking mechanisms that allow individuals to steal cars in less than 90 seconds. 

The settlement, which would cover nearly nine million drivers, is awaiting court approval, according to a Kia press release. 

“The Kia and Hyundai agreement is valued at up to $200 million and will provide compensation for customers who incurred theft-related vehicle losses or damages in addition to reimbursement for insurance deductibles, increased insurance premiums and other theft-related losses,” said a spokesperson for Kia. 

Drivers can also already receive a free anti-theft software upgrade at Kia and Hyundai dealerships. For models that cannot accommodate the upgrade, drivers will receive up to $300 to buy anti-theft devices if the settlement is approved. 

Hyundai and Kia have also distributed tens of thousands of wheel locks for vehicle owners through local law enforcement and direct shipment to affected drivers. 

“Hyundai Motor America is committed to ensuring the quality and integrity of our products. A subset of Hyundai vehicles on the road in the U.S. today—primarily base trim or entry-level models— are not equipped with push-button ignitions and immobilizing anti-theft devices,” said a spokesperson for Hyundai. “Thieves discovered a specific method by which to bypass the vehicles’ security features and then documented and promoted their exploits on TikTok and other social media channels.” 

The trend, known as the “Kia Challenge,” began gaining popularity last summer.  The videos showed people how to steal certain Kia and Hyundai vehicles by using a USB cable to jump-start the car. 

Some drivers, like Donte Kirby, were not aware of the challenge until after their vehicles were stolen. 

The Baltimore resident was visiting his hometown of Philadelphia when his 2019 Kia Forte was stolen in late April. The 30-year-old planned to take the vehicle to a repair shop for minor damage incurred in an accident and parked the car on the street around the corner from his aunt’s house. 

“I wasn’t driving because I was waiting to take it to the shop. I saw it the night before because I had a feeling that I should check on it, and it was there,” said Kirby, who is a reporter for the Washington Business Journal. “The next afternoon I went to a meeting and came back at 12 p.m., and it just wasn’t there.”

After filing a claim for the stolen vehicle, Kirby’s insurance provider informed him that this was a common occurrence with his model. 

“I did wind up buying another Kia Forte, but it’s a 2021 model. Apparently, it’s not an issue because it’s a push to start,” said Kirby. “I was of the mind that I wasn’t going back to Kia, but the cars are just too cheap. I couldn’t pass up on the price.” 

Kirby’s car was recovered just outside of Philadelphia a couple weeks after it was stolen. His USB cable was missing from the vehicle as well as his spare change. 

“In the grand scheme of things, I had good enough insurance and was able to get a new and better car, so it felt like a victimless crime,” said Kirby. “But, for someone who has paid off their Kia or doesn’t have as good of insurance, it could definitely suck.” 

Unlike Kirby, Columbus, Ohio native Lia Smith was aware of the “Kia Challenge,” but she didn’t expect to fall victim to it. 

Certain models of the Kia and Hyundai car brand are being targeted across the country as car thieves participate in a viral social media challenge that encourages others to steal the vehicles using a simple USB cable. Even if the car is not successfully stolen, damage to the ignition comes with a financial burden some can’t afford. (Courtesy Photo)

A young man attempted to steal her 2021 Kia Rio in early June while it was parked outside of her house in broad daylight. 

“My aunt is moving out of my house currently. As she was throwing stuff away outside, she noticed that there was someone in my car. She said, ‘Hey, get out of my niece’s car,’ and he jumped out of the window,” said Smith, a student at Wilberforce University. 

“I came outside as he ran away, and I was baffled. I didn’t think it would happen to me based off of where I live, but clearly you are not safe anywhere.” 

The young man threw a cinder block through her passenger window to breach the car. Glass was everywhere, and Smith sustained scratches to her center console. 

She took the car to a local repair shop and now uses a steering wheel lock everytime she parks the vehicle. 

“I don’t feel safe driving the car in general. I would rather just get a whole new car with a different brand, so I don’t have to worry about it,” said Smith. 

Victims and perpetrators alike have taken to social media to lament or brag about the attempted and successful thefts. Complaints to Instagram (IG) to take down the IG account operating under the name “Kiaboys.Official” were allegedly met with notices from that company stating that the account did not violate community standards on the platform. “Kia boy” accounts have popped up all over social media, with different area codes to identify where their criminal exploits are taking place. 

On Facebook, groups such as “Kia and Hyundai Theft Victims” have thousands of posts from both distraught victims and criminals, taunting those who have had their way to work, school or home damaged or outright stolen. Many victims have reported having to shell out money to cover the damage from multiple theft attempts. 

“My sportage got hit again today. [At] 10:30 a.m., broad daylight in a busy parking lot. Parked next to the building facing cameras. When is this going to end?” asked New York resident Kayt Davidson in a post to the group on July 19. “Second time for me, last time it took 24 hours to get it back. I hate this car…I already have a claim with Kia Customer Care from the last time it happened two months ago.” 

“As you can see, I had the club on and I have the updates. I have done everything Kia says to do,” said Davidson, sharing photos of the damaged car with an anti-theft club still on the wheel. 

The situation has only escalated in recent weeks, with would-be victims pulling weapons on thieves caught in the act. Minors across the country have also been involved in car accidents while actively stealing Kia and Hyundai vehicles, posing broader safety concerns. 

If the $200 million settlement is approved, Kia and Hyundai drivers of certain models will be eligible to receive certain benefits regardless of theft or attempted-theft, according to the Hagens Berman law firm. Preliminary court approval is expected to take place in July. 

“Currently, we are awaiting the court’s review of the settlement. If and when the court approves the settlement, then we will have a clearer timeline as to when class members may begin making claims and finally receiving payments, if eligible,” said Steve Berman, managing partner of Hagens Berman. 

Megan Sayles is a Report for America Corps member. 

Related Articles: