How Kia and Hyundai's new software update thwarts viral TikTok car thefts

Before you fall victim to the 'Kia Challenge' that's gone viral on TikTok, see if your car is eligible for the software update.
Written by Stephanie Condon, Senior Writer
A row of 2005 KIA Spectras are seen on display at a Kia dealership
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Kia and Hyundai are rolling out a free software update for vehicles that may be targets of the "Kia challenge" -- a viral TikTok challenge that has inspired car thefts nationwide. The software update will be free for millions of Kia and Hyundai owners, the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said Tuesday.

The challenge went viral in 2021, according to CNBC, encouraging young people to steal certain makes and models of 2010-2021 Kia and Hyundai vehicles. The targeted cars lack an immobilizer -- an electronic security device that prevents someone from starting a car engine without the right key. Videos on TikTok and other social media channels demonstrate how you can effectively hotwire one of these cars with a USB cord. 

In Los Angeles, the viral challenge led to an 85% year-over-year increase in Hyundai and Kia thefts in 2022, CNBC reported. Thefts of Kias and Hyundais skyrocketed in other parts of the country as well, while the thieves posted videos of themselves stealing the cars. Tags like "Kia boys" raked in tens of millions of views on TikTok, even though the social media company said it would remove any such content that it found. 

The challenge has resulted in at least 14 reported crashes and eight fatalities, according to the NHTSA.

Also: Cybersecurity staff are struggling. Here's how to support them better

With the software update, you'll have to put the correct key in the ignition to turn on the vehicle, the NHTSA said. The update will also extend the length of the alarm sound from 30 seconds to one minute.

The NHTSA said owners of these vehicles should contact Hyundai (toll-free at 800-633-5151) or Kia (toll-free at 800-333-4542) for information on the update.

Hyundai said in a release that the free software upgrade will be available to almost four million vehicles, starting with more than one million model-year 2017-2020 Elantra, 2015-2019 Sonata, and 2020-2021 Venue vehicles. The remaining eligible cars should be able to get the upgrade by this June. 

Car owners will have to take their vehicle to a Hyundai dealership to get the upgrade. The installation should take less than an hour. The Hyundai installation also comes with a window decal alerting would-be thieves that the car is equipped with new anti-theft technology.

At www.hyundaiantitheft.com, Hyundai customers can input their vehicle's Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) to find out when it is eligible for the software upgrade.

Editorial standards