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How familiar are you with the Kia Challenge?
Even if you answered “Not at all,” you may have still heard about the TikTok trend of people hot-wiring and stealing Kias and Hyundais for fun.
This was an alarming turn of events for the owners of around 8.3 million at-risk cars, a number estimated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. While both Kia and Hyundai have announced software updates to address the issue, many of those vehicles are still unprotected, according to the NHTSA — including the cars owned by both writers of this article.
For full transparency: Ryan drives a Hyundai, Drew drives a Kia and neither vehicle is currently eligible for the software updates. So this article is more than just another assignment — it’s also the advice we’re following to protect our cars.
What is the Kia Challenge?
The Kia Challenge started in Milwaukee with a group called the Kia Boyz. They gained local notoriety in 2021, but found a national audience in July 2022 when a TikTok video showed how to hot-wire a Kia with only a screwdriver and a USB cable.
Kias and Hyundais were targeted because of an ignition software vulnerability, according to the NHTSA. Several models from 2011-2022 don’t have anti-theft technology that’s become the industry standard. And when the Kia Challenge became a viral trend, it caused a spike in car theft.
In 2021, 6,970 Kias and Hyundais were reported stolen in Milwaukee, compared with 895 Kias and Hyundais in 2020, according to the office of the attorney general of Wisconsin. And Milwaukee is just one affected city — Atlanta, Chicago and Denver also have seen increases in thefts of the vehicles. You can check for data on car thefts in your area through USAFacts, a nonprofit that collects U.S. government data. The organization compiled data on reported car thefts from more than 500 police departments and federal agencies nationwide.
How the Kia Challenge may affect your insurance
Having your vehicle stolen is a nightmare. After filing a police report, you may also have to submit separate insurance claims for the vehicle and any valuables inside, which will likely affect your insurance rates.
Now, the increased risk for specific Kia and Hyundai years and models has made insurance companies wary of covering those vehicles. In an emailed statement, State Farm confirmed it has “temporarily stopped accepting” applications in some states for some Hyundai and Kia vehicles.
Progressive has taken a similar stance, saying in an emailed statement that the company has seen theft increase by a factor of 20 in some areas. A spokesperson confirmed via email that the company will continue insuring current customers but has issued fewer new policies and increased premiums in some locations.
What you can do to stay insured
If you drive a Kia or Hyundai, here are a few ways to improve your chances of staying insured and keeping your rates in check.
Contact your carmaker
Kia and Hyundai have rolled out free anti-theft software updates for models at the highest risk. Contact your manufacturer to see if your model is eligible, and if not, what options you have.
For example, Drew found out his Kia is eligible for the software update, although the update won’t roll out for his particular car until sometime this summer.
Ryan was able to get reimbursed for a steering wheel lock (with receipt) after a phone call to Hyundai confirmed his car is ineligible for the software update. Hyundai did announce plans to reimburse owners for alternative anti-theft devices like alarm kits.
Kia owners: Call 800-333-4542.
Hyundai owners: Call 888-498-0390 or visit HyundaiAntiTheft.com.
Take note: If you're worried about your insurance going up, Hyundai announced a partnership with AAA to provide coverage for drivers who may have been affected. AAA insurance is not available in Alaska, Massachusetts or Washington.
Contact your insurer
It’s hard to predict how the software update will impact Hyundai and Kia owners’ car insurance in the near term, but there’s hope the update may eventually ease any cost burden for affected drivers. In an emailed statement, Progressive encouraged owners to get the software update “as soon as possible” and said it will monitor the software’s effectiveness and adjust Progressive policies accordingly.
If you haven’t acted yet, make the call to your agent or company soon. “Most people don't want to deal with insurance until they have to file a claim,” says Scott Holeman, a spokesperson for the Insurance Information Institute, an organization consisting of insurance carrier member companies.
You can start by asking the following questions:
Do I have the coverage I need? Comprehensive coverage pays for car theft and vandalism, and rental reimbursement coverage helps pay for a rental car if you need it.
How are my rates impacted? Don’t be surprised if your rates go up when you renew your policy, especially if you live in a high-crime area. Generally, the more popular a car is to steal, the more expensive it is to insure.
How can I get a better price? Ask about discounts and other ways to lower costs. For example, if you don’t drive much or if you park in a garage, you might qualify for lower rates. And let your insurer know if you’ve gotten the software update or installed anti-theft devices.
Some rate increases are outside your control. “The good news is that auto insurance is a highly competitive industry,” Holeman says. Even if you drive an at-risk Kia or Hyundai, some insurers will offer better rates than others, so don’t be afraid to shop around, Holeman says.
NerdWallet recommends comparing car insurance quotes at least once a year. You should also shop around any time you move, buy a new car or experience a big life change like getting married.
How to avoid getting your car stolen
There are a few best practices you can follow to reduce the odds of having your car stolen, regardless of its make:
Park smart. When possible, park in highly visible areas, such as under a streetlamp or in secure locations like garages. Lock your doors, close your windows and keep valuables out of your car.
Install an anti-theft system. Consider adding protection like an aftermarket engine immobilizer or alarm system.
Add visual deterrents like a steering wheel lock or blinking light. The presence of an anti-theft device may make would-be thieves think twice about stealing your car, Holeman says. Hyundai and Kia also offer window stickers for customers who get the software update. You could even buy a fake anti-theft blinking light or window sticker online.
Track your car (just in case). If your car doesn’t have a vehicle recovery system, consider adding one. You can even hide a small tracking device like an Apple AirTag somewhere in your car, Holeman says.
All the prevention in the world can't protect you entirely from car theft. However, following these steps gave us peace of mind, and we hope it helps you, too.