Hyundai and Kia agreed to a $200 million settlement stemming from a class-action lawsuit related to a rash of car thefts inspired by a viral social media challenge on TikTok.
The so-called “Kia Challenge” on the social media platform has led to hundreds of car thefts nationwide, including at least 14 reported crashes and eight fatalities, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Thieves known as “the Kia Boyz” would post instructional videos on YouTube and TikTok about how to bypass the vehicles’ security system using tools as simple as a USB cable.
The thefts are reportedly easy to pull off because many Hyundai and Kia vehicles manufactured between 2015-2019 lack electronic immobilizers that prevent would-be thieves from simply breaking in and bypassing the ignition. The feature is standard equipment on nearly all vehicles from the same period made by other manufacturers.
Thieves known as “the Kia Boyz” would post instructional videos on YouTube and TikTok
The settlement only applies to around 9 million vehicles that lack push-button ignitions and anti-theft immobilizers. In February, the companies also offered free software updates to extend the length of the alarm sound from 30 seconds to one minute and to require a key in the ignition switch to turn the vehicle on. The settlement also includes up to $145 million for out-of-pocket losses for consumers who had cars stolen, according to Reuters.
“We appreciate the opportunity to provide additional support for our owners who have been impacted by increasing and persistent criminal activity targeting our vehicles,” said Jason Erb, chief legal officer at Hyundai Motor North America, in a statement. “Customer security remains a top priority.”
There hasn’t been a nationwide accounting of how many Hyundai and Kia vehicles have been stolen, but stats from individual cities provide some sense of how viral the trend has become. In Milwaukee, for example, police report that 469 Kias and 426 Hyundais were stolen in 2020. Those numbers spiked the following year to 3,557 Kias and 3,406 Hyundais, according to NPR.
Hyundai and Kia’s attempts to fix the problem have been uneven. Last year, the automakers said they would charge owners at least $170 for security kits to fix the issue. But with installation and labor, those costs could soar to $500. Eventually, the company raised the reimbursement amount to individual customers to $300.
Hyundai and Kia were also offering some owners wheel locks to prevent thefts. NHTSA says the companies have handed out 26,000 wheel locks since November 2022.