'It's happening everywhere': How social media contributed to a spike in Kia, Hyundai thefts
E.J. Christensen, of Colorado, left his car in a well-lit area of a Broomfield parking lot near Denver for several days in late July while he left town for a work trip.
When he returned, his 2018 Kia Sportage was gone.
“The only thing left of my car was a couple of pieces of the door handle and the door lock,” Christensen, 64, said.
After realizing his car had been stolen, Christensen reported the theft to the police, and authorities found the car a few days later in Denver. Officers pulled someone over driving his silver Kia and found the steering wheel lock Christensen had placed for protection cut in half on the car floor.
Police, Christensen said, determined the car had been too contaminated with fentanyl for anyone to use it again. The car was totaled.
“There were probably a hundred other cars in that parking lot, but the thieves singled out my car,” Christensen said.
Christensen isn’t alone, as authorities across the country have reported an increase in Kia and Hyundai thefts. And a slew of class actions against the manufacturers claims a failure to install an electronic security device known as an engine immobilizer makes the cars easy to steal.
“Kia has made a common safety feature optional. It would be like someone making seat belts optional in cars,” said Missouri-based attorney Ken McClain. “Their failure to include these as a standard item makes these cars unsafe, and they ought to remedy the defects.”
Kia and Hyundai said they don’t comment on pending litigation. Both manufacturers, however, acknowledged the rise in thefts of certain vehicles.
Hyundai said criminals are targeting its vehicles without engine immobilizers, which became standard on all of its cars produced after Nov. 1, 2021.
Kia, meanwhile said, “criminals are seeking vehicles solely equipped with a steel key and 'turn-to-start' ignition system.”
“The majority of Kia vehicles in the United States are equipped with a key fob and ‘push-button-to-start' system, making them more difficult to steal,” Kia said in a statement. “All 2022 Kia models and trims have an immobilizer applied either at the beginning of the model year or as a running change.”
McClain said his firm receives inquiries regarding issues with Kia and Hyundai cars from all across the country.
“This is happening everywhere and it's growing as they learn how to do it,” McClain said. “It’s really simple if you watch the TikTok videos.”
Catalytic converter theft:The 10 vehicles most likely targeted, and what cops are doing about it
Who are the ‘Kia Boyz’?
Under the hashtag “Kia Boyz,” TikTok users have posted videos showing how to steal certain Kia and Hyundai cars with only a screwdriver and a USB cord.
The trend began in 2021 and the hashtag has since garnered more than 30.9 million views on TikTok. The original “Kia Boyz” video was taken down.
The “Kia Boyz” trend has sparked an increase in Kia and Hyundai thefts over the past year.
"They're doing this stuff in 20, 30 seconds and they're almost laughing as they're doing it, giggling almost about how quick this is, how easy it is,” said Illinois’ Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, noting that many of the videos show young people stealing the cars. “It’s a how-to while they're sort of laughing their way through it.”
Dart said Kia and Hyundai thefts in Chicago increased by over 800% compared to last year.
“We started looking around to see what could have caused this and it became quite apparent early on that there was a direct hook to the social media world,” Dart said. “And we then dug into that further and we found that, through social media, there were active campaigns to propagate ways to steal these cars.”
Are you a parent purchasing a car?:Check out Cars.com’s 2022 Car Seat Fit Report Card
A nationwide trend
Since June 20, authorities in Charlotte, North Carolina, have received 156 reports of Kia and Hyundai thefts, a 346% increase from the 35 incidents reported during the same time last year.
“In many of the recovered vehicles and attempted thefts, we have noticed that the suspects will smash the rear passenger windows to gain entry to the vehicles, then remove the steering column cover to gain access to the ignition,” the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department said in an email.
The most common vehicles being stolen in Charlotte, according to authorities:
- Hyundai Sonata
- Hyundai Elantra
- Kia Soul
- Kia Optima
- Kia Rio
- Kia Forte
- Kia Sorento
- Hyundai Tucson
- Hyundai Accent
- Hyundai Santa Fe
Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, Kia and Hyundai vehicles accounted for nearly 13% of stolen cars last year; as of last month, that number was up almost 20%, authorities said. Thieves there are targeting Kia and Hyundai models from 2010 to 2021, which aren't equipped with engine immobilizers, according to the Los Angeles Police Department.
What Kia and Hyundai are doing about the rise in thefts
Kia and Hyundai said have been working with local law enforcement and have made steering wheel locks available for affected customers.
“Kia America has provided steering wheel lock devices at no cost to law enforcement in affected areas to deter vandalism and theft,” Kia said in a statement. “That effort will continue in close coordination with local police departments for distribution to concerned owners of Kia vehicles not originally equipped with an immobilizer.”
Hyundai, meanwhile, said it “has identified a Firstech / Compustar security kit that targets the method of entry thieves are using to access these vehicles.”
Starting Oct. 1, the security kit will be available for purchase and installation at Hyundai dealerships and Compustar authorized installers across the country.
Kia customers with questions regarding their vehicle can contact the Customer Care Center at 1-800-333-4542 (4Kia). And Hyundai customers who have questions can contact the Hyundai Consumer Assistance Center at 800-633-5151.
More coverage for USA TODAY subscribers
- Are we stuck with blistering inflation?:High prices leave experts wondering when we'll see relief
- Affordability concerns:The hottest zip codes in US for home buyers may come as a surprise
- Up for debate?:Midterm candidates dispute rules and dodge debates in a new campaign normal
- Netflix, Hello Fresh and heated seats?:Automakers want in on your monthly subscription costs
- Not just Tesla:Here's what to know about buying a used electric vehicle