How TikTok Challenge-Related Car Thefts Are Prompting Attorneys General to Urge Recall of Kia and Hyundai Cars

A viral TikTok challenge has led to a rise in car thefts of Kia and Hyundai models, prompting attorneys general from 17 states to call for a recall of the vehicles. Videos on TikTok have shown how a screwdriver and a USB cable can be used to start the vehicles. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has linked the trend to 14 reported crashes and eight deaths.

Attorneys general from 17 states are urging the federal government to recall millions of Kia and Hyundai cars due to a sharp increase in thefts prompted by a viral social media challenge. Videos circulating on TikTok have shown how people can start some Kia and Hyundai models with only a screwdriver and a USB cable, as the cars do not have engine immobilizers. This feature, standard on most cars, prevents the engine from starting unless the key is present.

In Los Angeles, thefts of Hyundai and Kia cars increased by around 85% in 2022, accounting for 20% of all car thefts in the city, according to the California attorney general’s office. These social media-inspired thefts have resulted in tragic consequences, with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration attributing 14 reported crashes and eight deaths to the stolen car trend. In October, police in Buffalo, New York, reported that a car crash that left four teenagers dead may have been linked to the TikTok challenge.

Attorneys general from 17 states, including Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, and New York, sent a letter to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on Thursday requesting a nationwide recall. The letter also called on the automakers to install engine immobilizers in the affected vehicles.

The pressure on South Korean automakers Kia and Hyundai is mounting, as multiple cities, including St. Louis, Cleveland, and San Diego, have already sued the automakers. The Highway Loss Data Institute reported in September that Kia and Hyundai cars without immobilizers had a vehicle theft claim rate of 2.18 per 1,000 insured vehicle years, compared to the industry rate of 1.21.

Kia and Hyundai announced in February that they would provide software updates for vehicles that require the key to be in the ignition switch to turn the car on. The change also updates the cars’ theft alarm software to extend the length of an alarm from 30 seconds to 1 minute. However, this service campaign is not a recall, which comes with reporting requirements and is closely monitored by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration maintains that the thefts involve criminal conduct under law enforcement’s jurisdiction. However, the agency has met with the automakers to discuss theft vulnerability as well as software and hardware in the affected models.

Hyundai has said that all models produced after November 1, 2021, have immobilizers as standard equipment. While the automakers maintain that their vehicles comply with federal safety standards, the mounting pressure on them may result in a recall being issued to prevent further accidents and deaths resulting from these viral social media challenges.