Kia and Hyundai Are Being Sued Because Viral TikToks Showed How Easy It Is to Steal Their Cars

The sister companies were virtually the only ones to not make immobilizers standard by the mid-2010s.
Kia Sportage
Justin Sullivan / Staff via Getty
Screen Shot 2021-02-24 at 3
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A class action lawsuit has been filed against Kia and Hyundai by three people who claim their cars were stolen as a result of the viral Kia Challenge on Tiktok, which dares mostly young teens to steal cars from those brands and has resulted in a huge increase in thefts. The lawsuit alleges the companies “blatantly value[d] profits over the safety and security of their customers,” and therefore its vehicles targeted, by not installing cheap but critical anti-theft devices all other cars have. It is the latest in a string of lawsuits against the companies relating to vehicle thefts.

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Low-end Kia and Hyundai models manufactured between 2010 and 2020 have been targets for theft for years because they do not have electronic immobilizers which prevent the engine from being started without the designated key present. Nearly all other vehicles have immobilizers. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), an insurance industry research group, 62 percent of car models had immobilizers as early as the year 2000 and by 2015 they were in 96 percent of cars by other manufacturers. But Kia and Hyundai had them in only 26 percent of their models. 

As a result, the cars can be relatively easily stolen by opening the steering column, accessing a diagnostic port, and plugging in a USB cord to start the car. According to the IIHS, thefts have been particularly high for 2015-2019 Hyundais and Kias (which are sister companies that share lots of technology and designs), a trend that began in 2020. 

But starting in 2021, videos started to go viral on TikTok showing how to steal Kias and Hyundais, which takes about 20 to 30 seconds according to law enforcement. It became known as the “Kia Challenge” and a Youtube documentary called Kia Boys has 3.8 million views as of this writing. IIHS says the trend began in Wisconsin where Hyundai-Kia thefts “soared to more than 30 times the 2019 level.” As the thefts have spread nationwide this summer, the Hyundai Accent, Kia Rio, and Kia Sportage—low-cost econoboxes that typically aren’t major targets for theft—climbed to IIHS’s top 20 most stolen cars list.

The lawsuit filed on Wednesday is just the latest in a string of class action suits filed against Kia and Hyundai on the matter. CNBC reports that Ken McClain, an attorney in Missouri, has already filed lawsuits in 12 states and may file in seven more. IIHS reports the first lawsuit filed on the companies’ failure to include immobilizers came in 2020.

Hyundai spokesperson Ira Gabriel told Motherboard “Hyundai does not comment on pending litigation” but that it is “concerned about the recent rise in auto thefts of certain Hyundai motor vehicles.” Gabriel said Hyundai cars “meet or exceed Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards.” Beginning October 1, Hyundai will make a security kit manufactured by Firstech/Compustar available for purchase through Hyundai or Campustar dealers.

Kia spokesperson James Bell told Motherboard in a statement, “While no car can be made theft-proof, criminals are seeking vehicles solely equipped with a steel key and ‘turn-to-start’ ignition system” and that cars with key fobs are “more difficult to steal.” Kia is also working with local police departments to distribute wheel locks to affected customers.

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