Summer of Theft Creating Bad Publicity for Hyundai, Kia

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
summer of theft creating bad publicity for hyundai kia

Following an internet trend that proliferated on TikTok over the summer, there’s been an alleged surge of vehicle thefts targeting Kia and Hyundai products. The issue reportedly began with a video tutorial recorded in Milwaukee showing how to steal the cars by shoving a connected USB cable into a cracked-open ignition. But the resulting problem has spread to major cities across the country, often with rowdy teens – known as “ Kia Boyz” – taking random cars for little more than joy rides.

It’s starting to look like a rather serious problem, with there being more coverage every single day, though this is hardly a new phenomenon. In high school, your author learned that you could start tons of old cars with little more than a flathead screwdriver, a vendetta against the steering column cover, and a little trial and error. Some models didn’t even require you to access the ignition wiring if the keyway had seen enough use.

Knowing a vehicle’s vulnerabilities is an essential part of thieves making a living, so they tend to share information. On a long enough timeline, this data gradually makes its way to the general public. But the potential reach for all information has grown by leaps and bounds due to the internet. When the conditions are right, something can reach millions of people in a matter of hours.

That doesn’t mean TikTok deserves all the blame here, however. Despite arguably being the most unsavory and vapid social media app yet to be invented, and famous for idiotic trends similar to the “Hyundai/Kia Challenge,” the vulnerability was similarly amplified by news media spending a large chunk of the summer sharing the story.

Want to know how to steal cars? Find out at eleven!

It’s also difficult to attribute surging car thefts exclusively to the related social media challenge. Automotive crime is up across the board this year, with many criminals opting to steal pieces of the vehicle rather than the whole shebang. We’ve seen catalytic converter theft skyrocketing all year and there was even a stint where people were robbing fueling stations to sell black market gasoline on the West Coast. Crime is up everywhere in America, with no sign that it’ll be slowing.

That said, data from the Milwaukee Police Department has shown Hyundai and Kia models as becoming a preferred target for car thieves. In 2019, the city saw 3,495 stolen vehicles – 6 percent of which were wearing a Hyundai or Kia badge. By 2021, that number had jumped to 10,471 vehicles – with 67 percent being a Hyundai or Kia product. That’s not only a massive increase in generalized automotive crime but also some very compelling evidence that the USB vulnerability has influenced which cars are getting nabbed.

According to Car and Driver, the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) doesn’t have either make listed among its top 10 most stolen vehicles for 2021. But Chicago and Saint Petersburg, Florida, both endured a 750-percent (or higher) increase in vehicle thefts last year and reported that at least 40 of those vehicles were manufactured by Hyundai or Kia.

What does this mean? Probably that word hasn’t gotten around to everyone yet or that these cities just have a group of extremely motivated thieves that already know about the exploit. Hell, our discussing it here will probably encourage a few more people to go out and learn about the vulnerability. But sharing knowledge is also the only way to resolve this issue, likely at some cost for the Hyundai Motor Group.

Media outlets are criticizing the company for not installing immobilizers into more vehicles. While these devices aren’t foolproof and can become extremely annoying when they eventually fail, they would certainly offer another layer of protection. Frankly, installing a kill switch that only you know about seems like the best way to go. But that’s not a realistic option for everyone, especially if you don’t actually own the vehicle you’re currently driving or had hoped to keep the warranty intact. So we’re back to Hyundai and Kia – both of which have complied with Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards already.

Considering the bad press, Hyundai is eager to assuage any fears customers may have moving forward and has promised that all vehicles (manufactured after November of 2021) will be equipped with ignition immobilizers. In October, the company will also begin selling a Firstech/Compustar security kit which they claim targets the method of entry thieves are using. Meanwhile, Kia said it would also be adding immobilizers to all vehicles later this year and that a majority of its current models come with key-fob and push-button start, which it claims makes them harder to steal in general.

Worried about your vehicle? If so, you should know that the USB trick is only supposed to work on select Kia products from the 2011-2021 model year and Hyundai vehicles from MY 2015-2021. Law enforcement has likewise recommended some preventive measures you can take, the dumbest of which is advising people to not leave any USB cables in their car. Everything else is probably stuff you’ve heard before – things like not leaving the windows down, considering the safety of where you’re parking, and buying an alarm system. But you can probably avoid ever having your car stolen by simply owning something with a clutch pedal, as modern thieves never seem to know how to drive a manual transmission automobile. 

[Image: chalermphon_tiam/Shutterstock]

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12 of 43 comments
  • Kcflyer Kcflyer on Sep 21, 2022

    Criminal gets busted stealing cars starting at age 11. Gets released within hours. By age 14 he starts using a gun during carjacking's. Still gets released without bail "because of liberal guilt". Age 15 kills his first victim. But keep quoting your talking points Lou. How about this. Commit a felony. Go to jail. Work 18 hours a day doing hard manual labor. No down time. Just work, eat, potty and sleep. No gyms, no tv, no internet, no nothing. Just learn jail is not a place you ever want to go again. Lets try that. Reform in jail is a fantasy. Hard time wont stop every repeat offender but it worked better than the expensive three hots and a cot system we have now.

    • See 5 previous
    • Lou_BC Lou_BC on Sep 23, 2022

      @ Kcflyer - I'll repeat this part, "People get so wrapped up in their narrow partisan view points they are unable to see value in a multifaceted approach to crime."

      Countries much more liberal than the USA have less crime per capita so what is your point? Oh..yeah... repubs good... libs... bad.

      Rankings of similar democratic socioeconomic countries (lower number = higher rates) : 56 - USA, 64 - UK, 75 - Australia, 82 - Canada, 98 - Norway, 114 - Finland, 117 - Denmark

      Care to pull gun violence into the equation?

  • ToolGuy ToolGuy on Sep 21, 2022

    "A young [human] that is mistreated, abused, neglected, and left to fend for itself will most likely become a problem adult [human]." Finally someone gets me! Thanks Lou :)

    • See 3 previous
    • BetterOne BetterOne on Sep 27, 2022

      What you term "root causes," Louie, reasonable people consider excuses.

      But go ahead and keep on making excuses for the filth like a good little Leftist.

  • Dukeisduke I subscribed to both Road & Track and Car and Driver for over 25 years, but it's been close to 20 years since I dropped both. I tried their digital versions with their reader software (can't remember the name now), but it wasn't the same. I let it lapse after a year.From what I've seen of R&T's print version, it's turned into more of a lifestyle thing like The Robb Report. I haven't seen an issue of C/D in a while.I enjoyed both magazines a lot when I was subscribing. R&T for the road tests (especially the April Fools road tests), used car reviews, historical articles, and columns like Peter Egan's Side Glances and Dennis Simanitis's Technical Correspondence. And C/D for the road tests and pithy commentary, and columns like Gordon Baxter's, and Jean Shepherd's (that goes way back to the early '70s).
  • Steve Biro It takes very clever or amusing content for me to sit through a video vehicle review. And most do not include that.Tim, you wrote :"Niche titles aren't dying because of a lack of interest from enthusiasts, but because of broader changes in the economics of media, at least in this author's opinion."You're right about the broader changes in economics. But the truth is that there IS a lack of interest from enthusiasts. Part of it is demographics. Young people coming up are generally not car and truck fans. That doesn't mean there are no young enthusiasts but the numbers are much smaller. And even those who consider themselves enthusiasts seem to have mixed feelings. Just take a look at Jalopnik.And then we come to the real problem: The vast majority of new vehicles coming out today are not interesting to enthusiasts, are not fun to drive and/or are just not affordable.You can argue that EVs are technically interesting and should create enthusiasm. But the truth is they are not fun to drive, don't work well enough yet for most people and are very expensive.EVs on the race track? Have you ever been to a Formula E race? Please.And even if we set EVs aside, the electronic nannies that are being forced on us pretty much preclude a satisfying driving experience in any brand-new vehicle, regardless of propulsion system. Sure, many consumers who view cars as transportation appliances may welcome this technology. But they are not enthusiasts. I don't know about you, but I and most car fans I know don't want smart phones on wheels.There is simply not that much of interest to write about. Car and Driver and Road & Track are dipping deeper into nostalgia and their archives as a result. R&T is big on sponsoring road trips for enthusiasts - which is a great idea. But only people with money to burn need apply.And then there is the problem of quality in automotive writing. As more experienced people are let go and more money is cut from publications, the quality and length of pieces keeps going down, leading to the inevitable self-fulfilling prophecy.Even the output on this site is sharply reduced from its peak. And the number of responses to posts seems a small fraction of what it used to be. This is my first comment since the site was recently relaunched. I don't expect to be making many in the future.Frankly Tim - and it gives me no pleasure to write this - but your post makes me feel as though the people running this site have run out of ideas and TTAC's days may be numbered.Cutbacks in automotive journalism are upsetting. But, until there is something exciting and fun to write about, they are going to continue. Perhaps automotive enthusiasm really was a 20th century phenomenon..
  • THX1136 I think that the good ole interwebs is at least partially to blame. When folks can get content for free, what is the motivation to pay to read? I'm guilty of this big time. Gotta pay to read!? Forget it! I'll go somewhere else or do without. And since a majority of folks have that portable PC disguised as a phone in their pocket, no need for print. The amount of info easily available is the other factor the web brings to bear. It's perhaps harder now to stand out. Standing out is necessary to continued success.In an industry I've been interested (and participated) in, the one magazine (Mix) I subscribed to has become a shadow of it's former self (200 pgs now down to 75). I like print for the reasons mentioned by another earlier. I can 'access' it in a non-linear fashion and it's easily portable for me. (Don't own a smarty pants phone and don't plan to at the moment.)I would agree with others: useful comparison reviews, unique content not easily available other places, occasional ringers (Baruth, Sajeev, et al) - it would be attractive to me anyway. I enjoy Corey, Matt and Murilee and hope they continue to contribute here.
  • Daniel J I wish auto journos would do more comparisons. They do some but many are just from notes from a previous review compared to a new review. I see where journos go out to a location and test drive and review a vehicle on location but that does absolutely nothing for me without any comparison to similar cars. I also wish more journos spent more time on seat comfort. I guess that doesn't matter much when many journos seem to be smaller folks where comfort isn't as important. Ergonomics are usually just glossed over unless there is something very specific about the ergonomics that tick the journo off. I honestly get more from most youtube reviews than I ever do about reviews written on a page.
  • Namesakeone It's not just automotive. All print media is treading water. Time Magazine has gone from weekly to biweekly. Playboy no longer exists as a print magazine. There are lots of other examples. How to fix it? Let me be (among) the first to say that I have no idea.