Hyundai and Kia are rolling out software updates to curb a spate of car thefts related to a TikTok challenge that authorities say has led to at least 14 reported accidents and eight deaths.
Updates are free for millions of vehicles that lack a major anti-theft device, an issue that has been exploited on social media and has led to rampant car theft.
The software being released updates the theft alarm software logic to extend the duration of the alarm sound from 30 seconds to one minute and requires the key to be in the ignition to start the vehicle.
About 3.8 million Hyundais and 4.5 million Kias are eligible for the software upgrade, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said on Tuesday.
Hyundai said upgrades begin Tuesday for nearly 4 million vehicles, starting with one million 2017-2020 Elantra, 2015-2019 Sonata and 2020-2021 Venue models. The software update is scheduled to be available for the remaining eligible vehicles by June.
“We’ve prioritized update availability for owners and renters of our top-selling vehicles and those most targeted by thieves so that dealers address them first,” said Randy Parker, CEO of Hyundai Motor America.
In September, the Highway Loss Data Institute, a unit of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, found that Hyundais and Kias without immobilizers had a vehicle theft claim rate of 2.18 per 1,000 insured vehicles per year. The rest of the industry combined had a rate of 1.21. One year of insured vehicle is equal to one year insured vehicle.
The institute compared vehicles from model years 2015 to 2019. It studied vehicle theft claims from 2021 onwards.
Hyundai says that all models produced after November 1, 2021 have immobilizers as standard equipment.
Insurance companies have taken note of the high theft rates. State Farm said in January it had temporarily stopped offering insurance for certain model years and trim levels of Hyundai and Kia vehicles in some states because thieves were targeting the cars.
“This is a serious issue affecting our customers and the entire auto insurance industry,” a State Farm spokesperson told CBS News last month.
The insurer did not specify which types of Hyundai and Kia vehicles are affected, nor in which states it suspended new insurance policies for the cars.
TikTok challenge linked to accidents and deaths
A TikTok social media challenge highlighted the lack of immobilizers on vehicles and resulted in at least 14 reported accidents and eight deaths, according to the NHTSA. The challenge shows TikTok viewers how to connect Kia and Hyundai cars with a USB cable and screwdriver.
In October, a police commissioner said a car accident in Buffalo, New York, that left four teenagers dead, could be linked to the TikTok challenge. In the incident, a total of six teenagers were in a speeding Kia that crashed, Buffalo police said. The car had a stolen record.
Hyundai and Kia will begin software updates later this month, with subsequent phases in the coming months. Hyundai will also provide vehicle owners with window stickers that alert would-be thieves that the vehicle has anti-theft protection.
Vehicle owners can contact Hyundai at 800-633-5151 and Kia at 800-333-4542 for software update information.