The social media trend led to a wave of vehicle thefts and forced two prominent insurance carriers to announce that they will be limiting applications for coverage.
Hyundai and Kia are stepping up their theft deterrent system and providing other anti-theft resources after a trend on TikTok led to a wave of vehicle thefts and forced two prominent insurance carriers to announce that they will be limiting applications for coverage.
Last week, Korean automakers Hyundai and Kia announced that they will offer software upgrades to 8.3 million U.S. vehicles in an attempt to limit spiraling car thefts caused by the viral social media trend.
In September 2021, the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) reported that Hyundai and Kia theft claims were nearly twice as common compared to all other manufacturers and blamed a lack of electronic immobilizers. Around the same time a social media trend that demonstrated how easy it is to steal the vehicles was going viral.
Thieves began posting videos of their thefts and joyrides and even videos explaining how to steal the cars during 2021, pointing out the absence of an electronic mobilizer that prevents thieves from simply breaking into the car and bypassing the ignition.
“Vehicle theft losses plunged after immobilizers were introduced," said Matt Moore, senior vice president of HLDI. “Unfortunately, Hyundai and Kia have lagged behind other automakers in making them standard equipment."
In the model year 2015, immobilizers were standard on 96% of other manufacturers' vehicles but were standard on only 26% of Hyundai and Kia vehicle models, HLDI said.
In Wisconsin, one of the earliest-affected states, the social media fad caused overall losses from Hyundai-Kia thefts to soar to more than 30 times the 2019 level, according to HLDI, which has led to some carriers restricting coverage in certain areas.
“State Farm has temporarily stopped accepting new customer applications in some states for certain model years and trim levels of Hyundai and Kia vehicles because theft losses for these vehicles have increased dramatically," the company said in a prepared statement. “This is a serious problem impacting our customers and the entire auto insurance industry."
Additionally, Progressive acknowledged the rapid rise of thefts, noting that it has “seen theft rates for certain Hyundai and Kia vehicles more than triple and in some markets these vehicles are almost 20 times more likely to be stolen than other vehicles," according to a statement. “Given that we price our policies based on the level of risk they represent, this explosive increase in thefts in many cases makes these vehicles extremely challenging for us to insure."
Progressive will continue to insure existing customers who have these vehicles but has notified them of the "elevated risk." The company has also given policyholders tips to secure their vehicles.
"We'll continue to monitor how this issue plays out, and if we see a change in theft rates to more typical levels, we'll adjust our pricing and acceptance criteria accordingly," the statement added.
This week, The Hartford told its appointed agents that it will be sending an email to customers who insure their Kia or Hyundai with them containing information on how to take advantage of manufacturer provided solutions to help reduce the risk of theft.
“Hyundai Motor America is concerned about the recent rise in auto thefts of certain Hyundai model vehicles," Hyundai said in a statement. “While all of our vehicles meet or exceed Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, unfortunately, our vehicles have been targeted in a coordinated effort on social media."
These concerns led the manufacturer to release an update to the theft alarm software logic to extend the length of the alarm sound from 30 seconds to one minute and requires the key to be in the ignition switch to turn the vehicle on. The free upgrade will be offered for 3.8 million Hyundai and 4.5 million Kia vehicles in the U.S., the automakers and NHTSA said.
Hyundai will also provide its customers with a window sticker alerting would-be thieves that the vehicle is equipped with anti-theft protection. Hyundai will send the stickers and roll out software updates in a phased approach beginning later this month, with subsequent phases over the next several months.
Meanwhile, Kia is also rolling out its free software updates in a phased approach. The company will begin to update vehicles later this month, with ensuing phases throughout the next several months.
Concurrently, the companies have been working with law enforcement agencies to provide more than 26,000 steering wheel locks since November 2022 to 77 law enforcement agencies in 12 states. NHTSA encourages interested vehicle owners to contact local law enforcement to see if a wheel lock is available.
Will Jones is IA editor-in-chief.