Hyundai and Kia agreed to a $200 million settlement stemming from a class-action lawsuit related to a rash of car thefts inspired by a viral social media challenge on TikTok.
The so-called “Kia Challenge” on the social media platform has led to hundreds of car thefts across the country, including at least 14 reported crashes and eight fatalities, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Thieves known as “Kia Boyz” would post instructional videos on YouTube and TikTok on how to bypass the vehicle’s security system using tools as simple as a USB cable.
The thefts are reportedly easy to pull off because many Hyundai and Kia vehicles manufactured 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 from the same period made by other manufacturers.
Thieves known as “Kia Boyz” would post how-to videos on YouTube and TikTok
The settlement only applies to around 9 million vehicles that lack push-button ignitions and anti-theft devices. In February, the companies also offered free software updates to extend the length of the alarm sound from 30 seconds to one minute and to require a key in the ignition to turn on the vehicle. The settlement also includes up to $145 million in equity losses for consumers whose cars were stolen, according to Reuters.
“We appreciate the opportunity to provide additional support to our owners who have been affected by increased and persistent criminal activity targeting our vehicles,” Jason Erb, general manager of Hyundai Motor North America, said in a statement. “Customer safety remains a top priority.”
There hasn’t been a nationwide tally of how many Hyundai and Kia vehicles have been stolen, but statistics from individual cities give some sense of how viral the trend has become. In Milwaukee, for example, police report that 469 Kias and 426 Hyundais were stolen in 2020. Those numbers increased the following year to 3,557 Kias and 3,406 Hyundais, according to NPR.
Hyundai and Kia’s attempts to fix the problem have been uneven. Last year, automakers said they would charge owners at least $170 for safety kits to fix the problem. But with installation and labor, those costs can rise to $500. Eventually, the company raised the refund amount to individual customers to $300.
Hyundai and Kia also offered some owners wheel locks to prevent theft. NHTSA says the companies have distributed 26,000 wheel locks since November 2022.