Why are Hyundais and Kias so easy to steal?

Kia and Hyundai theft stories continue to make headlines in the wake of a social media “challenge.” Spurred on by the influence of a group calling itself the “Kia Boyz,” bored teens across the country have contributed to the rapid rise in thefts of certain Hyundai and Kia models. Videos shared on social media platforms show how quickly and simply it can be accomplished, with some suggesting that it’s the fault of owners who leave behind their electronic accessories. While there’s a kernel of truth to that, the reality is that Hyundai and Kia sold these cars with limited security features in order to undercut their competitors on price. Unfortunately, the wrong people noticed.  

So why exactly are these cars seemingly so easy to boost? Let’s break it down. 

Can thieves use my USB charger to steal my car?

Technically, yes. Stories keep circulating about how Kia Boyz use USBs to steal your car. But taking your charger with you will only mildly inconvenience a would-be joyrider. While a USB Type-A cable (the chunky, old kind you’re used to seeing everywhere) might make a handy tool for turning the ignition switch, anything else a thief can jam into the receptacle tightly enough to turn it will get the job done — most likely, a screwdriver.

Strictly speaking, these cars aren’t defective; their main fault is being cheap. The individual models in question were sold without ignition immobilizers — the components that prevent a car from being easily stolen. This technology is not inherently expensive, but it’s one of the things Hyundai and Kia shaved off to make its base models a little bit cheaper (and by extension, to encourage customers to buy up to the next trim). 

What does an ignition immobilizer do?

Your ignition immobilizer works in tandem with an electronic chip in your key. The two “shake hands” when you turn your key or press the “start” button in your car, adding an extra layer of security. If the electronic signature in the key doesn’t match what the immobilizer expects, the car won’t start. Even immobilizers can be somewhat easily defeated by determined thieves; it’s just not often worth the hassle and potential risk of incarceration to go to that much trouble just to take a car for a joy ride. 

Does my car have an immobilizer?

If you own a car built in the past five years and it wasn’t built by Hyundai or Kia, the answer is almost definitely “yes.” Chances are, if your car has a remote fob, you’re protected.  As of 2016, more than 95% of all cars were sold with some sort of ignition immobilizer. They became commonplace throughout the mid-late aughts and now go hand-in-hand with keyless entry systems that require digital handshaking, often with some degree of encryption. 

Can Hyundai and Kia fix these cars so they can’t be stolen?

The short answer is yes, an engine immobilizer can be installed in a car that was sold without one. In fact, Hyundai is in the process of rolling out updates that will address the problem. As of Feb. 14, 2023, a fix has been made available for the 2017-2020 Elantra, 2015-2019 Sonata and 2020-2021 Venue. In June, Hyundai plans to release a similar update for the remaining vehicles in its lineup impacted by the issue.

Here are the remaining Hyundais sold with variants that are vulnerable to theft:

  • 2018-2022 Accent
  • 2011-2016 Elantra
  • 2021-2022 Elantra
  • 2018-2020 Elantra GT
  • 2011-2014 Genesis Coupe
  • 2018-2022 Kona
  • 2020-2021 Palisade
  • 2013-2018 Santa Fe Sport
  • 2013-2022 Santa Fe
  • 2019 Santa Fe XL
  • 2011-2014 Sonata
  • 2011-2022 Tucson
  • 2012-2017 Veloster
  • 2019-2021 Veloster

For now, there’s no similar remedy available from Kia. 

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