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Hyundai and Kia issue free anti-theft software updates after TikTok challenge led to rise in car thefts

Hyundai and Kia are issuing free anti-theft software updates for several models in response to a rash of auto thefts related to a TikTok challengeThe Associated Press reports. Authorities believe the trend "has led to at least 14 reported crashes and eight fatalities."

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that the "Kia Challenge" has led to hundreds of car thefts across the country. The trend began in 2021 when suspected car thieves known as "the Kia Boyz" started posting "instructional videos about how to bypass the vehicles' security system using tools as simple as a USB cable," The Verge writes. The cars were reportedly easy to break into "because many 2015-2019 Hyundai and Kia vehicles lack electronic immobilizers that prevent thieves from simply breaking in and bypassing the ignition," per The Verge.

The NHTSA estimated that about 3.8 million Hyundais and 4.5 million Kias are eligible for the anti-theft program update. On Tuesday, Hyundai began updates for almost 4 million vehicles and will continue to do so in phases over the next few months. The first wave will start with "owners of 2017-2020 Elantra, 2015-2019 Sonata, and 2020-2021 Venue vehicles," The Verge adds. "Additional models, including Kona, Palisade, and Santa Fe vehicles, will be serviced starting June 2023." Qualified car owners have been instructed to bring their vehicles to a local car dealership to install the upgrades. Hyundai will also give vehicle owners window stickers "that alert would-be thieves that the vehicle has anti-theft protection," AP says. 

Randy Parker, CEO of Hyundai Motor America, says the company has "prioritized the upgrade's availability for owners and lessees of our highest selling vehicles and those most targeted by thieves in order for dealers to service them first," per AP. Before the software patch, Hyundai was selling security kits to fix the issue for a minimum of $170, though that price could jump to $500 with installation and labor. The Verge says the company also offered some owners wheel locks to prevent theft. The NHTSA says 26,00 wheel locks have been handed out since November 2022.