© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: The Hyundai Motors logo is seen on a steering wheel on display at the company’s headquarters in Seoul, South Korea March 22, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Hyundai Motor and Kia Corp will offer software upgrades to 8.3 million U.S. vehicles to help curb a growing number of car thefts using a method popularized on TikTok and other social media channels, the Korean automakers said on Tuesday.
TikTok videos showing how to steal cars made between 2015 and 2019 without push-button ignition and immobilizing immobilizers have gone viral across the country. This led to at least 14 reported crashes and eight fatalities,” the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said.
The free upgrade will be offered to 3.8 million Hyundai and 4.5 million Kia vehicles in the United States, the automakers and NHTSA said.
The software “updates the theft alarm software logic to extend the length of the alarm sound from 30 seconds to one minute and requires the key to be in the ignition to start the vehicle,” NHTSA said.
TikTok did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
USA Today reported last month that two major insurance companies have stopped offering new policies for high-theft Hyundai and Kia vehicles.
Many 2015-19 Hyundai and subsidiary Kia vehicles do not have electronic locks, which prevent burglary and ignition bypass. The feature was standard on almost all vehicles from other manufacturers during that period.
Theft claims in the U.S. in 2022 were nearly twice as common for Hyundai and Kia vehicles compared to vehicles from all other makes for 2015-2019, according to data from the Insurance Institute for Highway Traffic.
The group said after the Korean car thefts, which began in 2021, received significant attention on social media in Wisconsin and then spread, total Hyundai and Kia theft claims per insured vehicle year increased more than 30 times from level from 2019.
Hyundai will also provide customers with a window sticker that warns potential thieves that the vehicle is equipped with anti-theft protection.
Hyundai’s initial upgrade will cover more than one million 2017-2020 Elantra, 2015-2019 Sonata and 2020-2021 Venue vehicles. The software upgrade should be available by June for vehicles that remain eligible.
Kia said it has begun notifying owners about the upgrade and expects to make it available to most owners over the next few months.
As of November 2022, automakers have supplied more than 26,000 steering wheel locks to 77 law enforcement agencies in 12 states.
Kia also said it continues to “make steering wheel locks available free of charge through interested local law enforcement agencies,” subject to availability.
All Hyundai vehicles manufactured from November 2021 are equipped with an engine immobilizer as standard equipment.
(This story has been corrected to correct the day of the week in paragraph 1)