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Hyundai, Kia models at higher risk of theft, and of course it's on TikTok

Law enforcement officials are asking owners of some Hyundai and Kia models to take extra precautions when parking due to a rise in thefts attributed to a recent trend on social media called "Kia Boyz." It's possible to steal certain cars using little more than a USB charging cable.

As we reported last year, the trend began in Milwaukee in 2021 when a group of thieves realized it's stunningly easy to steal some late-model Hyundai and Kia cars that are not equipped with a push-button ignition. The thieves break into the car, remove the trim under the steering column to access the ignition, and use pliers or a USB charging cord to start the engine. Tutorials posted on social media sites such as TikTok made the trend a national phenomenon.

The thieves are taking the stolen cars on high-speed joyrides, perhaps partly as an exercise in filmmaking — TikTok videos are showing wild swerving and otherwise nutty driving — and several thieves and bystanders have been injured or killed.

And as we also said last year, the thieves are mainly kids, with one department saying that half its suspects are 16 and under. As for the why, everything has been blamed — it became a problem during the pandemic lockdown when kids were out of school and bored, plus there are the "Grand Theft Auto" video games catching blame, or the juvenile justice system, or parents. And of course, TikTok.

Posting on Facebook, Ohio's Hilliard Division of Police wrote that nine of the 15 stolen cars its officers have investigated since May 2022 were Hyundai and Kia models. Writing on Twitter, Florida's St. Petersburg police department said that 23 of the 56 cars reported stolen since July 11 were Hyundai and Kia models built before 2021 and not fitted with a push-button ignition. Other big cities reported a similar uptick.

While precisely what makes Hyundai and Kia models more vulnerable to this type of theft than, say, a Honda, remains unclear, Jalopnik wrote that the affected models are not equipped with an immobilizer, a device which prevents the engine from being started unless the right key is recognized. Kia said that it started installing an immobilizer in all of its cars regardless of trim level during the 2022 model year.

As the number of thefts continues to rise, law enforcement agencies are reminding Hyundai and Kia owners to use a theft prevention tool (such as a steering wheel lock), park in a garage or in a well-lit area, lock the doors, remove valuables from their car, and activate the alarm.