Cars too ‘easy to steal’? Kia and Hyundai owners file lawsuit after TikTok trend

·3 min read
David Zalubowski/AP

After police across the country blamed a TikTok trend for a spike in thefts of some Kia and Hyundai models, owners of the vehicles are saying the cars were made with a defect that makes them “easy to steal.”

The class action lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa, says the cars are also “unsafe” and “worth less” than what the owners paid.

One of the plaintiffs, Ann Brady, of Des Moines, said her 2019 Hyundai Tuscan was stolen in July, according to the lawsuit.

The car owners say the vehicles were made without engine immobilizers, which are electronic devices that make it harder to start cars without keys.

“This means that all a thief needs to do is strip the ignition column, exposing a piece that pops off, and then stick a USB drive, a knife, or some other similar tool to start the vehicle without a key or code,” the lawsuit says. “Once they do so, they can freely operate the vehicle, including the vehicle’s steering and forward self-mobility.”

A spokesperson for Hyundai Motor America said the company does not comment on pending litigation. A spokesman for Kia America did not respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit.

Authorities have blmed viral videos on TikTok and YouTube that show people breaking into cars and instructing viewers on how to start them without keys. The videos are part of what some call the “Kia Challenge,” in reference to TikTok challenges that invite users to try something that’s trending and post their own videos about it.

TikTok said in a previous statement that such videos violate the platform’s guidelines and will be removed.

Police departments across the country have been reporting increases in thefts of Kia and Hyundai vehicles over the last few months.

The class action lawsuit, which was filed on Aug. 4, doesn’t mention TikTok or the viral video trend but says that Kia America and Hyundai Motor America were negligent when manufacturing these car models without engine immobilizers and tried to hide the flaw from consumers.

The models that are often targeted for theft are Kia models made from 2011-2021 and Hyundai models from 2015-2021, according to the Norfolk Police Department in Virginia.

“(The car companies) specifically placed profits ahead of the health, rights, and safety of others by intentionally designing the vehicles to be defective and by concealing material facts about the (vehicles),” the lawsuit says.

In a previous statement sent to McClatchy News, Hyundai said its vehicle models without engine immobilizers have been targeted by criminals “in a coordinated effort on social media.” The devices became standard for all vehicles manufactured after Nov. 1, 2021, the statement says.

“In order to assist customers with earlier model year vehicles without an immobilizer, Hyundai has been working with and will continue to support local police departments to make steering wheel locks available for affected Hyundai owners,” the statement says. “Additionally, Hyundai has identified a Firstech / Compustar security kit that targets the method of entry thieves are using to access these vehicles.”

The company said customers will be able to purchase the security kits and have them installed at Hyundai dealerships beginning on Oct. 1.

A Kia spokesperson said in a previous statement sent to McClatchy News that all of its vehicles manufactured as of 2022 have engine immobilizers.

Both companies say all of their vehicles meet Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are seeking damages for an amount yet to be determined, but they say injuries and damages include the difference in value between their car and a “similar vehicle that is not defective,” the purchase of a device to stop theft, an increase in their car insurance premiums and the stigma associated with owning the cars. They are also asking that the car companies be ordered to stop selling the models that lack immobilizers and fix or replace those that are already on the road, the lawsuit says.

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