TikTok challenge sparks car thefts and class-action lawsuit against Kia, Hyundai

By: - August 8, 2022 5:54 pm

(Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

Amidst a rapid proliferation of social-media posts offering people tips on how to easily steal a Kia or Hyundai automobile, two Iowans have filed a class-action lawsuit against the car makers.

Ann Brady of Polk County and Leah Price of Decatur County are suing Kia America Inc., Hyundai Motor America and Hyundai Kia America Technical Center. They allege the companies produced a defect in their vehicles that makes them “easy to steal, unsafe, and worth less than they should be.”

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa, alleges the companies “admit there is a theft and safety problem with these vehicles but refuses to fix them, compensate consumers or otherwise take actions” to address the issue.

The two Iowans are suing on behalf of themselves and a nationwide class of thousands of persons who purchased a Kia or Hyundai in recent years.

Brady claims that at some unspecified time, she purchased a 2019 Hyundai Tuscan at Stew Hanson Hyundai in Clive, and that it was stolen in July 2022. Price says that in 2017, she purchased a new Kia Sorento from Kia Des Moines and then, the following year, purchased a 2012 Sorento and a 2016 Sorento from the same dealership.

USB cords used to start cars

According to the lawsuit, one of the reasons older Kia and Hyundai cars can so easily be stolen is that they do not comply with a Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard that requires vehicles to have a starting system that, once they ignition key is removed, prevents the activation of the engine and locks the steering column.

In the “defective” vehicles, the lawsuit claims, “neither steering nor forward self-mobility is prevented. If it were, the vehicles would not be stolen at alarming rates. … All a thief needs to do is strip the ignition column, exposing a piece that pops off, and then stick (in) a USB drive, a knife or some other similar tool, to start the vehicle without a key or code.”

The plaintiffs argue that considering the number of people who charge their cell phones in their car using a USB cable inside the vehicle, the only tool needed to steal a Kia or Hyundai “is usually readily available to any thief.”

Beginning in 2009, the lawsuit alleges, Kia sought to add a vehicle immobilizer to its Amanti line of vehicles, telling the federal government that this device was similar to other devices that have been shown to reduce theft by 58% to 80%. In 2007, Hyundai initiated similar efforts to add an immobilizer to its Azera line.

“Defendants are aware of the problems and even claim they have attempted to ‘fix’ their 2022 vehicles to eliminate the safety defects,” the lawsuit alleges, “but are refusing to do anything about the pre-2022 defective vehicles.”

The Iowa plaintiffs are seeking a refund of all expenses tied to their purchase of the vehicles, including the cost of anti-theft devices and increased insurance premiums due to the alleged defects.

The court has yet to rule on the plaintiffs’ request for class-action status, and the auto makers have not yet filed a response to the lawsuit.

The plaintiffs are represented by Sioux City attorney Jay M. Smith.

‘Kia Challenge’ on TikTok

In recent weeks, several videos have been uploaded to TikTok, YouTube and other social-media platforms instructing people on the best methods for using a USB cord to steal a KIA manufactured from 2011 to 2021, or a Hyundai made from 2015 to 2021.

The videos have given rise to the “Kia Challenge” in which a group of individuals calling themselves the “Kia Boyz” challenge others to steal a vehicle using the USB method while recording the theft to video.

In Lincoln, Nebraska, two teenagers recently recorded themselves trying to steal a 2013 Hyundai from the parking lot of the Lincoln Children’s Zoo, according to Nebraska Public Media. Omaha police say so far this year, there have been 230 Hyundais or Kias stolen – compared to 131 in the first seven months of 2021, the Omaha World-Herald reported. Other cities around the nation have reported a similar surge in thefts.

In a written statement, Kia America has said it “is aware of the rise in vehicle thefts” and says all 2022 models have an immobilizer in place. “All Kia vehicles for sale in the U.S. meet or exceed Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards,” the company says.

Hyundai Motor America has said it is “concerned” with a reported rise in thefts but that its vehicles “meet or exceed Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards.” The company says engine immobilizers “are standard equipment on all new Hyundai vehicles.”

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Clark Kauffman
Clark Kauffman

Clark is deputy editor of the Iowa Capital Dispatch. Kauffman has extensive experience using the Freedom of Information Act, reading Form 990 financial reports for nonprofit organizations, and organizing multi-part series. He can be a source for health care coverage as well as stories on police and prosecutorial misconduct, and publicly funded nonprofits. During the past 30 years, Clark worked as both an investigative reporter and editorial writer at two of Iowa’s largest newspapers, the Des Moines Register and the Quad-City Times. He has won numerous state and national awards for reporting and editorial writing. His 2004 series on prosecutorial misconduct in Iowa was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting. From October 2018 through November 2019, Kauffman was an assistant ombudsman for the Iowa Office of Ombudsman, an agency that investigates citizens’ complaints of wrongdoing within state and local government agencies.