From NyQuil-marinated chicken to the milk crate challenge, TikTok has served as a petri dish for countless ridiculous and ill-advised trends. In many cases, we only hear about these trends after a handful of isolated cases garner significant media attention — one woman plastering her hair with Gorilla Glue makes headlines, but most viewers roll their eyes rather than following in her footsteps. However, there have been a few incidents where TikTok fads spiraled out of control to create substantial real-world problems. The so-called Kia Boys trend falls into this category. What started as a series of viral videos from a group of masked teenage car thieves in the Milwaukee area has escalated to a nationwide surge of Kia and Hyundai thefts. And unlike other forms of car theft, criminals are able to steal these vehicles with nothing more than a screwdriver and an ordinary USB cable.
Above: This 2011 Kia Forte is one of many models affected by the Kia Boys theft trend. (Photo via Flickr.com/thekcb)
Above: This still from a Kia Boys documentary by YouTuber Tommy G shows a group of men joyriding in a Hyundai Elantra.
Authorities say this problem affects all 2011-2021 Kia vehicles and 2015-2021 Hyundai vehicles, a total of approximately 10 million cars, but not other makes and models. This is because — allegedly as a cost-cutting measure — these cars were built without “chipped” keys and engine immobilizers. In vehicles with engine immobilizers, the ignition system will only function when a key that has been programmed with the appropriate code is inserted. In other words, you need both a physical key (the metal part) and a digital key (the chip) to start most modern cars. That's not the case with late-model Kias and Hyundais, which only need a physical key.
Above: A public service announcement from the Norfolk Police Department in Virginia. The department reported a 35% increase in thefts of Kia and Hyundai vehicles in July 2022.
When criminals realized this, they began looking for ways to circumvent the key cylinder on the steering column. Unfortunately for Kia and Hyundai owners, this was also surprisingly easy. On these vehicles, the cylinder can be pried apart with a screwdriver in a matter of seconds, revealing a rectangular tab that can be turned to start the car.
Another item that's commonly-found in almost all vehicles — a USB cable — fits perfectly onto this tab:
Above: This still from a video by Fox 2 Detroit shows how thieves use a USB cable to steal these cars.
Numerous police departments throughout the United States have reported a sudden increase in car thefts since the TikTok videos began circulating in July 2022. According to a CNBC report, St. Petersburg, Florida announced that more than 1/3 of all car thefts between July and September were linked to the Kia Boys trend. Chicago officials stated, “Vehicle theft is up an astounding 767% due to an emerging TikTok challenge.” One auto shop owner in Ohio said that more than 30 Kia and Hyundai vehicles were towed to his shop with damaged steering columns in a single week.
In Tommy G's Kia Boys documentary video, one masked teenager expressed no fear of punishment: “You only going [to jail] for like three weeks. It’s a misdemeanor.”
Above: A public-service bulletin from the Los Angeles Police Department.
Although some might expect Kia and Hyundai to recall these vehicles and install immobilizers, that appears unlikely due to the immense cost of installing new ignition cylinders and re-keying every affected vehicle. Some estimates place this cost at more than $5 billion.
In a statement to the Cincinnati Enquirer, a Kia America spokesperson said that “no car can be made theft-proof” and continued, “All of our vehicles meet or exceed Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards.” Unhappy with this conclusion, owners have filed lawsuits against Kia and Hyundai in at least seven states. One lawsuit claims that these companies “blatantly [valued] profits over the safety and security of their customers.”
While the lawyers fight it out in court, authorities recommend Hyundai and Kia owners install a steering wheel lock (like the Club pictured above) and/or hidden kill switch to reduce the risk of theft. Unfortunately, auto parts stores in some major cities have reported shortages of these devices. It's also advisable to follow common-sense measures such as parking in a well-lit area and keeping your car locked at all times. A GPS tracking device such as an Apple Airtag might help you recover a stolen vehicle, but as we discussed in the past, Airtags are also used by criminals to track desirable cars.