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Hyundai, Kia rollout new software update after string of thefts: Will it be enough?

In response to a social media challenge on TikTok that led to hundreds of car thefts across the United States, Hyundai and Kia are offering free software updates for millions of their cars. The challenge, called the “Kia Challenge” on TikTok, has caused at least 14 reported crashes and eight fatalities, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Thieves, known as the “Kia Boyz,” have been posting instructional videos on TikTok, showing viewers how to bypass the vehicles’ security system using tools as simple as a USB cable. The thefts were easy to execute because many 2015-2019 Hyundai and Kia vehicles lacked electronic immobilizers, a feature that is standard on nearly all vehicles from the same period made by other manufacturers.


To combat the thefts, Hyundai and Kia are offering a free software update to extend the length of the alarm sound from 30 seconds to one minute and require a key in the ignition switch to turn the vehicle on. The update modifies certain vehicle control modules on Hyundai vehicles with standard “turn-key-to-start” ignition systems. Locking the doors with the key fob will set the factory alarm and activate an “ignition kill” feature, making it impossible to start the car in theft mode. Customers must use the key fob to unlock their vehicles to deactivate the “ignition kill” feature.

Milwaukee police report that in 2020, 469 Kias and 426 Hyundais were stolen, but those numbers surged to 3,557 Kias and 3,406 Hyundais in 2021. Approximately 3.8 million Hyundais and 4.5 million Kias are eligible for the software update, for a total of 8.3 million cars. Vehicle owners can take their cars to a local dealership, where technicians will install the upgrades in less than an hour. The upgraded vehicles will also receive a window decal indicating they have been equipped with anti-theft technology.

This week, owners of 2017-2020 Elantra, 2015-2019 Sonata, and 2020-2021 Venue vehicles are eligible for the update. Other models, including Kona, Palisade, and Santa Fe vehicles, will receive the update beginning in June 2023. Customers can check when they are eligible for the upgrade by inputting their vehicle’s VIN number on a designated website. Kia is set to roll out its phased approach later this month.

Previously, Hyundai charged owners at least $170 for security kits to address the issue. With installation and labor, these costs could soar to $500. In addition, Hyundai and Kia offered some owners wheel locks to prevent thefts, with the companies distributing 26,000 wheel locks since November 2022.