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How to Make Pre-2021 Hyundai and Kia Cars Harder to Steal

The software rollout has begun, with more to come in June

Hyundai Accent front three-quarters view
  • So-called "Kia Boys challenge" on TikTok instructed thieves on how to steal Hyundai and Kia vehicles that use a physical key.
  • Hyundai and Kia started rolling out software updates to prevent theft.
  • The update requires a trip to the dealership and will take less than an hour to complete.

Scores of thieves responded to the “Kia Boys challenge” on TikTok, which demonstrated how to hot-wire Hyundai and Kia vehicles with a screwdriver and USB cable.

These thieves-in-training (apparently fancying themselves an updated Memphis Raines from the movie Gone in 60 Seconds) discovered it worked, and car theft rates increased dramatically.

Specifically, 2010-2021 models from the South Korean manufacturers were targeted because they didn’t include an engine immobilizer system, which is an electronic anti-theft security device. As of mid-February, the automakers announced they would be rolling out software to fix that problem over the next several months and owners are finally getting a little peace of mind. The fix replicated a kill switch via software and won't allow the engine to start unless the car has been unlocked with the key fob.

The update is now available for 2017-2020 Elantra models, 2015-2019 Sonatas and 2020-2021 Venues. Affected Accent, Tucson, Veloster, Kona, Palisade and Santa Fe vehicles will be serviced starting in June. Even the 2011-2014 Genesis Coupe wasn't spared from this breach and will be included in the later rollout. Hyundai said "the upgrade can be performed at any Hyundai dealership and takes less than one hour for installation" on a site it set up specifically for this issue.

2019 Hyundai Elantra static exterior

In Los Angeles alone, officials told CNBC, the short-form TikTok viral video led to an 85% increase in Hyundai and Kia thefts compared to 2021. Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart said that the youngest perpetrator was 11, which is long before the young thief could have a legal driver’s license. Local Chicago station NBC 5 reported that Hyundai and Kia thefts accounted for 59% of all Chicago motor vehicle thefts recorded in November 2022.

Luckily for Hyundai and Kia owners, engine immobilizers are standard on all Hyundai vehicles produced as of November 2021, and they have been included on cars with a push-button starter and key fob for much longer. Those that were stolen required a physical key, which was replaced by a screwdriver during the thefts.

Unfortunately, not every affected Hyundai or Kia model will be able to accommodate the software upgrade. The automakers are currently finalizing a program that reimburses owners for the cost of a steering wheel lock instead. Across the country, a limited number of wheel locks were made available to drivers. (And of course, drivers can purchase wheel locks themselves to deter theft.)

Hyundai told the National Transportation Highway Board that it would provide a sticker to warn would-be thieves that the vehicle was updated. Criminals on the prowl who risk breaking in anyway will be greeted with an extended minute-long alarm alerting anyone in the area to a problem.

Edmunds says

If you have a Hyundai or Kia vehicle from model year 2021 or before, be sure to find out when your car is eligible for the software patch and perform it as soon as possible.