Hyundai And KIA To Offer Free Steering Wheel Locks To Combat Viral TikTok Thefts

Korean carmaker KIA and its parent company Hyundai have been caught up in a major car theft epidemic in many cities in the U.S. since 2021. The pervasive car robberies have significantly increased over 2022 as thieves continue to steal particular Hyundai and KIA cars manufactured between 2011 and 2022 and upload their videos to TikTok and other social media. But to abate the trend, Hyundai and KIA are now offering free steering wheel locks as a physical safeguard against theft.

According to Hyundai's statement to Bloomberg, as many as 4 million vehicles are affected by this vulnerability. Besides handing out free steering wheel locks to owners, the companies will also reimburse those who have already bought and installed such locks.

This is in addition to the free software update that KIA and Hyundai started offering to consumers to fortify anti-theft features. A fourth of those 4 million KIA and Hyundai car owners have already gotten the software update. At the same time, the remaining 3 million are eligible for free upgrades at any KIA or Hyundai dealership in the coming weeks.

Robberies for fun and fame

The robberies started as a viral TikTok challenge where thieves, predominantly young boys who choose to be distinguished as the "KIA Boys," have been hotwiring certain KIA and Hyundai car models using a USB cable. This is because the plagued models lack a crucial component called an ignition immobilizer, responsible for cutting off the fuel supply to the engine in case someone attempts to start the car without the actual key.

Due to the viral TikTok trend, several thieves have joined in to carjack the affected models and spread the word further. Most of these models affected by the flaw use mechanical keys and not smart key fobs.

Incidentally, many insurance companies "temporarily" stopped offering coverage for the affected models owing to their lack of anti-theft features. Despite warnings from several state and city police departments, there is no national tally of the number of robberies since the trend went viral. But in January 2023, Progressive, one of the leading insurance companies, told CNN that these vehicles were 20 times more likely to be stolen. It was one of the companies to limit the sale of new policies for the affected vehicles.

Is Hyundai mirepresenting numbers?

In addition to Hyundai, the police departments in several cities, such as Dublin, Ohio, and Baltimore, Maryland, have distributed free steering locks among affected car owners. Meanwhile, as a stopgap substitute to the ignition immobilizer, Hyundai has been offing a software feature meant to lock down a car's engine once the owner locks the vehicle with a key fob. The software will also activate an alarm that goes off if anyone tries to unlock the car with any method other than the compatible key fob. Further, the software is designed to extend the theft alarm sound from 30 seconds to one minute.

While Hyundai states the number of affected vehicles to be 4 million, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates a much higher score, with almost 8.3 million affected Hyundai- and KIA-branded vehicles. NHTSA also notes that in addition to providing the free software update, the companies will also give the customers free window stickers to notify potential thieves about the anti-theft system.

You may head over to Hyundai's dedicated website to find out if the flaw affects your car's model.