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Kia Engine Immobilizer Lawsuit

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C.L. Mike Schmidt Published by C.L. Mike Schmidt

What is the Kia Class Action Lawsuit Alleging?

A man from Saint Paul, Minnesota, who had his Kia stolen has filed a federal class action lawsuit [1] against Kia and Hyundai Motors over vehicles that were manufactured without an engine immobilizer, which allegedly makes them more susceptible to being stolen.

The complaint was filed in September 2022 on behalf of Lead Plaintiff LaShaun Johnson, whose vehicle was stolen a month earlier. Police told Johnson that thieves used a screwdriver to break the ignition column on his car to get it started. Now, Johnson is without a vehicle "for months" as he waits on replacement parts, according to the lawsuit.

Numerous other similar class action lawsuits have recently been filed against Kia and Hyundai in courts across the U.S. over their vehicles' lack of an engine immobilizer, including a two-plaintiff class-action suit in Iowa, a class-action in Wisconsin, and two class-action suits centering Ohio theft victims.

Plaintiffs in the cases allege that Kia and Hyundai knowingly produced vehicles that are "easy to steal, unsafe and worth less than they should be." Now, despite admitting the problem, the automakers still "refuse to fix them" or "compensate consumers," according to the class actions.

TikTok Challenge Spurs Rise in Thefts of Kia, Hyundai Cars

News about the lack of engine immobilizers on certain Kia and Hyundai vehicles has spread to social media, which has led to a "TikTok Challenge" urging teens to steal the cars off the street using a simple USB cord or flathead screwdriver.

The trend challenges teens to steal a car by breaking into the vehicle, popping off the steering wheel column and hot wiring it using a USB cable. The thieves then post videos of stealing and driving the cars, using the hashtag “Kia Boys” — which has more than 33 million views on TikTok.

In St. Petersburg, Florida, police reported more than a third of all car thefts there since July 2022 have been linked to the TikTok challenge. Los Angeles officials say the trend has caused an 85% increase in car theft of Kias and Hyundais compared to a year earlier. In Chicago between August and September 2022, car thefts were up over 800%, according to Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart. “We see no end in sight,” Dart said.

Investigators say the Kia TikTok Challenge started in early 2021, and that the number of cars being stolen is continuing to surge across the United States.

Milwaukee Filmmaker Shines Light on "Kia Boys" in Documentary: CBS News Video

What is an Engine Immobilizer?

An engine immobilizer is a security device that uses an electronic chip embedded into the ECU of the vehicle to comprehend smart key codes and turn on the ignition on the vehicle. The immobilizer prevents the engine from starting in the absence of the vehicle’s authentic and authorized keys. To do that, an immobilizer uses a specially designed digitally coded key that is often referred to as a Smart Key.

Which Vehicles Were Manufactured Without an Engine Immobilizer?

The hotwiring method works on 2011-2021 Kias (models Optima, Soul, Sorento, Forte, and Sportage) and all 2016-2021 Hyundais that use a steel key, not a fob and push-button start.

Beginning in October 2022, Hyundai customers who want to protect their vehicle may purchase a specialized security kit that "targets the method of entry thieves are using," for an undisclosed cost, Hyundai said in a statement.

Kia says it is not offering a security kit at this time. If you own one of the affected Kia vehicles, you may want to consider purchasing an old-fashioned wheel lock or "Club" device if you want to keep your car safe.

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