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A Kia that was damaged after being stolen sits in a repair shop in Milwaukee. Automakers Hyundai and Kia are offering software updates for millions of their vehicles that are missing a “key” anti-theft device, an issue that was exploited on social media and led to rampant theft of the cars.

HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania’s attorney general encourages owners of Hyundai and Kia vehicles to follow through with manufacturer software updates to prevent them from being stolen without a key.

The persistence of a social media challenge on TikTok that began in 2021 and resurfaced in 2022 motivated the consumer alert from Attorney General Michelle Henry. The videos show viewers how to steal specific models from the manufacturers using household items like USB cables and a screwdriver.

Affected vehicles include 2017-2020 Hyundai Elantras, 2015-2019 Hyundai Sonatas, and 2020-2021 Hyundai Venues. They’re missing software that would prevent thefts without a key.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the TikTok challenge led to at least 14 reported crashes and eight fatalities.

“Social media has opened so many doors and opportunities for information-sharing,” Henry said in a press release. “Unfortunately, not all of those opportunities serve a positive purpose, so consumers should be aware of trends that leave them vulnerable to crime. I am thankful that Hyundai and Kia are already releasing the software corrections for these vehicles and for their partnership with local law enforcement to give consumers free steering wheel locks.”

Theft-deterrent software to thwart the hack is available free of charge from Hyundai and Kia. Updates became available in February, with some to be released in phases, and are expected to be available to most impacted owners by June.

About 3.8 million Hyundais and 4.5 million Kias are eligible for the software update, the NHTSA told the Associated Press in February.

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, the NHTSA said.

Vehicle owners can contact Hyundai at 800-633-5151 and Kia at 800-333-4542 for more information on the software update.

According to a news release from Hyundai, all of the manufacturer’s vehicles produced since November 2021 are equipped with an engine immobilizer as standard equipment. Some 2011-22 model year vehicles without engine immobilizers can’t accommodate the software upgrade, the company said.

The manufacturers also partnered with law enforcement agencies in 12 states to provide free steering wheel locks, too. Contact local law enforcement about availability.

The National Insurance Crime Bureau reported that vehicle thefts nationwide topped 1 million in 2022, topping that figure for the first time since 2008. The thefts last year were a 7% increase compared to 2021, the bureau reported.

The Philadelphia Inquirer found that nearly 2,600 Hyundais and Kias were stolen in the city in 2022, citing police department data. The combined total in 2019 was 389.

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