Kia, Hyundai sued after viral TikTok causes rise in thefts

·4-min read

Things I learned on TikTok: The hole in a pasta spoon is one serving of spaghetti. What to do when a debt collector comes knocking. How to hot wire a Kia using a USB cord and a screwdriver.

Oh yes, you read that right.

A trending TikTok challenge publicizing a technique for stealing certain makes and models of Kia and Hyundai vehicles caused vehicle thefts to soar across the country, according to reports from several police departments.

Now, Kia and its parent company Hyundai are getting sued by pissed off victims.

On Wednesday, a national class action lawsuit was filed against the automakers for a defect that the challenge exposed. The lawsuit, which was filed in federal court in Orange County, California, alleges that Kias built between 2011 and 2021 and Hyundais built from 2015 to 2021 that were equipped with traditional key engines, rather than keyless fobs, were "deliberately" built without "engine immobilizers." This apparently critical, inexpensive and very common device is meant to prevent cars from being hot-wired and stolen. The complaint says that virtually every carmaker over the last 20 years has used it, and yet Kia and Hyundai did not -- hence the easy car swiping by children.

Kia and Hyundai refused to comment on the pending litigation but did say that immobilizers became standard on their vehicles after November 1, 2021.

Since the "Kia Challenge" started to pop off on TikTok and then YouTube in July, police in several cities have reported some serious car theft stats. In St. Petersburg, Florida, over a third of all car thefts could be linked to the challenge, according to a CNBC report. In Chicago, that number reached 77%, which is a 767% increase in Kia and Hyundai thefts, according to a community advisory from the Chicago Police Department that linked the thefts to the TikTok challenge.

The lawsuit claims that Kia and Hyundai had previously looked into the efficacy of building with engine immobilizers and decided against it, "blatantly valuing profits over the safety and security of their customers." Furthermore, the lawsuit alleges that the automakers didn't make an effort to even warn customers of the risk of theft by youths seeking street cred on social media.

"With the massive rise in publicity of the defect, it is unlikely that the thefts will stop without active intervention by Kia or Hyundai," reads the lawsuit. "An entire criminal ecosystem has materialized; exacerbated by thefts only further fueled by TikToks, videos and memes promoting the criminal behavior."

A little dramatic, but, seriously, how embarrassing to know that your car was stolen, not by someone who maybe needed to sell it for parts and feed their family, but by your local branch of Kia Boys -- the cute name for groups of youths taking advantage of their TikTok knowledge for wild joyrides?

While the fact that many of these thefts were recorded on video and published online should make finding them easier, the plaintiffs argue that the repair costs are often substantial. TikTokers first need to break into the cars, which means busting a window and popping off the steering column, not to mention collateral joyride damage, which can exceed $10,000 according to the suit. The lawsuit argues that the challenge has even lead to supply chain issues -- parts needed to repair any recovered vehicle have been delayed due to the sheer demand for them.

Hyundai said it will start selling and installing security kits that should protect against the method of entry thieves are using to break into vehicles at Hyundai dealerships across the country. The automaker is also working with police departments to make steering wheel locks available.

Amusing absurdity of this situation aside, these car thefts have real consequences on people's lives. Stephanie McQuarrie, one of the three named plaintiffs, said she woke up on the morning of September 11 to find her 2015 Kia Optima missing from her driveway in Davenport, Florida, leaving her unable to go to work, resulting in the loss of her job as a housekeeping supervisor. The car was later found on the side of a highway, unable to start, and is presumed to be a total loss.

MLG Attorneys at Law, the auto-defect firm that filed the complaint, told TechCrunch that 35 people have reached out about the class action lawsuit. The plaintiffs are seeking monetary damages and equitable relief on behalf of themselves and "all other persons and entities nationwide who purchased or leased 2011-21 Kia vehicles or 2015-21 Hyundai vehicles equipped with traditional key ignition systems."

For its part, TikTok has a policy that asks users not to post, upload, stream or share content that promotes vandalism or damage to property. So if you too are looking for an instructional video of how to hot-wire one of these now-infamous vehicles, you're shit out of luck. Instead of instructional videos, you're more likely to find evidence of the aftermath, including videos of the damage done, PSAs from concerned citizens and tips on how to not get your car stolen by roving Kia Boys.

TikTok did not respond to a request for comment.

This article has been updated to reflect the number of victims who have reached out to MLG about the class action lawsuit.