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15 Feb, 2023
2 min time to read

Following the 'Kia Challenge' on social media which led to numerous car thefts, more than 8 million vehicles are now qualified for a complimentary upgrade of their anti-theft software.

Millions of Hyundai and Kia cars are receiving free software updates in response to a recent wave of car thefts inspired by a viral TikTok challenge. The challenge, dubbed the "Kia Challenge," has led to numerous vehicle thefts across the country, resulting in at least 14 crashes and eight fatalities, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Thieves, known as the "Kia Boyz," have posted instructional videos demonstrating how to bypass the cars' security systems using tools as simple as a USB cable. The thefts are made possible by the absence of electronic immobilizers in many Hyundai and Kia vehicles made between 2015 and 2019, a standard feature in most vehicles made by other manufacturers during the same period.

Hyundai and its subsidiary, Kia, are proposing an update to the "theft alarm software logic," which would increase the duration of the alarm sound from 30 seconds to one minute. Additionally, the vehicles will be updated to require the insertion of a key into the ignition switch to start the vehicle.

The upgrade to the software will modify specific control modules on Hyundai cars that come with standard "turn-key-to-start" ignition systems. Consequently, when the car doors are locked with the key fob, the factory alarm will be activated, and an "ignition kill" feature will be triggered, preventing the vehicles from starting when in the theft mode. To deactivate the "ignition kill" feature, customers will need to use the key fob to unlock their vehicles.

According to Hyundai, the software update will achieve the following modifications:

The software upgrade modifies certain vehicle control modules on Hyundai vehicles equipped with standard “turn-key-to-start” ignition systems. As a result, locking the doors with the key fob will set the factory alarm and activate an “ignition kill” feature so the vehicles cannot be started when subjected to the popularized theft mode. Customers must use the key fob to unlock their vehicles to deactivate the “ignition kill” feature.

Although there is no comprehensive nationwide record of stolen Hyundai and Kia vehicles, statistics from specific cities suggest a significant rise in car thefts. In Milwaukee, for example, law enforcement reported 469 Kias and 426 Hyundais stolen in 2020, which then surged to 3,557 Kias and 3,406 Hyundais in the following year, according to NPR.

To address this issue, software updates are available free of charge for approximately 8.3 million eligible vehicles, with owners of 2017-2020 Elantra, 2015-2019 Sonata, and 2020-2021 Venue models being the first to receive them. The upgrades can be installed in less than an hour at local dealerships, and upgraded vehicles will receive a window decal confirming their anti-theft technology. To check their eligibility for the upgrade, customers can enter their vehicle's VIN number on this website, and Kia will also begin its phased approach later this month, with additional models such as the Kona, Palisade, and Santa Fe being serviced from June 2023.