Hyundai and Kia roll out software upgrade to prevent rising car thefts

The update will rectify a security flaw in more than 8 million cars.
Jijo Malayil
Hyundai Motor Company dealership
Hyundai Motor Company dealership


In response to a viral social media challenge that resulted in many accidents, carmakers Hyundai and Kia have rolled out a free software update to their customers to rectify an issue related to their security system. It is estimated that around 3.8 million Hyundai and 4.5 million Kia vehicles will be eligible for such an upgrade.

The news of an update was shared by the United States National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) and confirmed how the automakers had developed a theft deterrent software to counter the absence of an immobilizer system, which gave way to multiple incidents of thefts across the U.S.

NHTSA reports that TikTok's social media challenge, which spread nationwide, has resulted in at least 14 reported crashes and eight fatalities. "The software updates 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," released NHTSA. 

The challenge to steal such cars went viral

The popularity of the challenge, known as the 'Kia Challenge' had resulted in a surge in car thefts nationwide. The challenge encouraged teenagers in the U.S. to hot wire such cars of these brands that lacked an engine immobilizer. This electronic security device prevents a vehicle from starting unless the correct key or fob is used. 

The carmaker's models, which have a push-button start or were produced after November 2021, feature an engine immobilizer. The carmakers had supplied susceptible owners with steering locks to prevent such incidents.

According to the automakers, the software upgrade alters specific control modules on vehicles equipped with standard “turn-key-to-start” ignition systems.  "As a result, locking the doors with the key fob will set the factory alarm and activate an “ignition kill” feature so the vehicle cannot be started when subjected to the popularized theft mode," said a statement on the Hyundai website.

Upgrades will be rolled out in a phased manner

Hyundai has informed that the upgrades will be launched as a service campaign for a total of almost four million vehicles beginning from February 14. The upgrade will be available "first to more than 1 million model year 2017-2020 Elantra, 2015-2019 Sonata, and 2020-2021 Venue vehicles," according to the Hyundai website. 

The updates will be carried out at its dealership and are said to require less than an hour. However, the company has clarified that not all models will be compatible with the upgrade offered, specifically some 2011-2022 model-year vehicles without engine immobilizers cannot accommodate the software upgrade.

Meanwhile, the companies are working in association with the U.S. authorities to provide more than "26,000 steering wheel locks since November 2022 to 77 law enforcement agencies in 12 states."

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