Hyundai and Kia have agreed on a $200 million settlement stemming from a class action lawsuit related to a spate of car thefts inspired by a viral social media challenge on TikTok.
The social media platform’s so-called “Kia Challenge” has led to hundreds of car thefts nationwide, including at least 14 reported accidents and eight fatalities, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Thieves, known as “the Kia Boyz,” posted instructional videos on YouTube and TikTok on how to bypass the vehicles’ security system using tools as simple as a USB cable.
The thefts are reportedly easy to pull off because many Hyundai and Kia vehicles produced between 2015-2019 lack electronic immobilizers that prevent would-be thieves from simply breaking in and bypassing the ignition. The feature is standard equipment on almost all vehicles of the same era from other manufacturers.
Thieves known as “the Kia Boyz” posted how-to videos on YouTube and TikTok
The settlement only applies to about 9 million vehicles without push buttons and anti-theft immobilizers. In February, the companies also offered free software updates to increase the length of the alarm sound from 30 seconds to one minute and to require a key in the ignition to turn the vehicle on. The settlement also includes up to $145 million in cash losses for consumers who had cars stolen, according to Reuters.
“We appreciate the opportunity to provide additional support to our owners affected by increasing and ongoing criminal activity targeting our vehicles,” said Jason Erb, chief legal officer at Hyundai Motor North America, in a statement. “Customer safety remains a top priority.”
There has been no nationwide accounting of how many Hyundai and Kia vehicles have been stolen, but statistics from individual cities give an idea of how viral the trend has become. In Milwaukee, for example, police report that 469 Kias and 426 Hyundais were stolen in 2020. That number rose to 3,557 Kias and 3,406 Hyundais the following year, according to NPR.
Hyundai and Kia’s attempts to solve the problem were uneven. Last year, the automakers said they would charge owners at least $170 for security kits to fix the problem. But with installation and labor, that cost can add up to $500. Eventually, the company increased the reimbursement amount for individual customers to $300.
Hyundai and Kia also offered wheel locks to some owners to prevent theft. NHTSA says the companies have distributed 26,000 wheel locks since November 2022.