Combatting the Kia Challenge: tips for protecting your Hyundai or Kia

You’ve likely heard something in the last year about the so-called “Kia Challenge” on your social media and news feeds. 

If you own a Kia or Hyundai made between 2015–2021, the TikTok trend has probably caused you to lose sleep over the theft safety of your vehicle, at the very least. If you own one of these cars and are confused about what action you can take, keep reading to find out the latest on what you can do—and what Kia and Hyundai are doing—to help protect your vehicle.

What’s the “Kia Challenge”?

Around late 2020, U.S. law enforcement began noticing an alarming trend in auto thefts. Kia and Hyundai models with model years of roughly 2015–2021 were being stolen at much higher rates than other manufacturer models from the same model years. 

In fact, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, theft claims in 2022 for 2015–2019 model Hyundai and Kia vehicles were almost twice as common as those for all other manufacturers among those model years. Thieves were targeting these vehicles and stealing them in less than a minute using very basic equipment. 

That’s because only around 26% of Kias and Hyundais made in those years included an immobilizer chip that is present in about 96% of other manufacturer vehicles made in similar years, according to the Highway Loss Data Institute. This missing chip communicates with a matching chip in a key fob to start the engine and prevents bypassing the ignition. If there’s no key or it doesn’t match, the car is immobilized. The issue affects a large range of Kia and Hyundai models. 

Affected models:

  • 2015-2021 Hyundai Accent (all body styles)
  • 2015-2021 Hyundai Elantra (two- and four-door)
  • 2015-2021 Hyundai Kona
  • 2015-2021 Hyundai Santa Fe
  • 2015-2021 Hyundai Tucson
  • 2015-2018 Hyundai Veloster
  • 2015-2021 Kia Forte
  • 2015-2021 Kia Optima
  • 2015-2016 Kia Optima Hybrid
  • 2015-2021 Kia Rio (all body styles)
  • 2015-2021 Kia Sedona
  • 2015-2016 Kia Sorento
  • 2015-2021 Kia Soul
  • 2015-2021 Kia Sportage

How are Kia and Hyundai helping affected vehicle owners?

So, what can you do if your Kia or Hyundai is on the list?

The companies have recently announced that they will be providing a software update to help prevent theft in the models and years affected. This update will be free, and Hyundai claims it should take less than an hour to upgrade your vehicle at a dealer service center. On February 14, Hyundai began this upgrade on 2017–2020 Elantra, 2015–2019 Sonata, and 2020–2021 Venue vehicles. Additional vehicles will be eligible beginning in June. 

Here’s Hyundai’s explanation of how the software upgrade will work: 

“The software upgrade modifies certain vehicle control modules on Hyundai 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 vehicles cannot be started when subjected to the popularized theft mode. Customers must use the key fob to unlock their vehicles to deactivate the 'ignition kill' feature.”

You can go here to see if and when your vehicle will be eligible for this free software update. Or contact Hyundai toll-free at 800-633-5151 or Kia at 800-333-4542.

What else can you do to help protect your vehicle?

If your Kia or Hyundai is affected, but you’re not yet eligible for the upgrade—or you’d just like some additional peace of mind—here are some actions you can take now to you help protect your vehicle:

  • Contact local law enforcement to see if you can receive a free steering wheel lock—the companies have been working with law enforcement agencies to provide more than 26,000 steering wheel locks to law enforcement agencies in 12 states, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration 
  • Always lock your vehicle
  • Don’t keep valuables in your car, and keep them out of sight when you do
  • Park in a well-lit area 
  • Keep your vehicle in a secure garage whenever possible

If you have additional questions or concerns, we recommend you contact your local Kia or Hyundai dealership.