Summer of Theft Creating Bad Publicity for Hyundai, Kia

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

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]

Become a TTAC insider. Get the latest news, features, TTAC takes, and everything else that gets to the truth about cars first by  subscribing to our newsletter.

Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

More by Matt Posky

Comments
Join the conversation
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.




  • EBFlex More proof of how much EVs suck. If you have to do this, that means you are trying to substitute what people want...and that's ICE.
  • Akear The only CEO who can save Boeing, GM, and Ford is Alan Mulally. Mulally is largely credited with saving both Boeing and Ford. The other alternative is to follow a failed Jack Welch business model. We have all witnessed what Jack Welch did to GE, and what happened to Boeing when it was taken over by GE-trained businessmen. Below is an interesting article on how Jack Welch indirectly ruined Boeing.https://www.thedailybeast.com/how-boeing-was-set-on-the-path-to-disaster-by-the-cult-of-jack-welch
  • ChristianWimmer The interior might be well-made, but the design is just hideous in my opinion. It’s to busy and there’s no simplistic harmony visible in it. In fact I feel that the nicest Lexus interior ever could be found in the original LS400 - because it was rather minimalistic, had pleasing lines and didn’t try to hard. It looked just right. All Lexus interiors which came after it just had bizarre styling cues and “tried to hard” if you know what I mean.
  • THX1136 As a couple of folks have mentioned wasn't this an issue with the DeLorean? I seem to recall that it was claimed you could do a 'minor' buff of the surface and it would be good as new. Guess I don't see why it's a big deal if it can be so easily rectified. Won't be any different than getting out and waxing the car every so often - part of ownership, eh.
  • ToolGuy This kind of thing might be interesting in a racing simulator.
Next