The TikTok trend in question started last year, when two people showed online that you can start some of the automakers’ models with just a USB. This quickly turned into a major problem for owners of the targeted units. But it soon also became a problem for local authorities, which were forced to deal with a very complicated issue – targeting crimes committed with stolen cars.
St. Louis mayor Tishaura Jones claims the “Kia Boyz” trend revealed that the South Korean auto brands failed to follow the industry standards and made their cars “so easy to steal that a child could do it.”
The city’s Police Chief joined the mayor and underlined in a press conference that some of the stolen cars aren’t used just for TikTok videos – they’re increasingly more often a part of violent crimes.
After almost a year since this TikTok video became mainstream, 61 percent of the stolen cars in St. Louis are either Hyundais or Kias.
The city filed the lawsuit in a federal court and wants a judge to force both brands to put immobilizers on the affected vehicles or on the units that do not have them. Moreover, they want the defendants to cover the attorney fees and ask the court to establish other types of relief that may seem fit, according to a local source.
St. Louis became the sixth city that took the automakers to court over what a social media trend uncovered as a shortcoming (or cost-cutting measure) that led to a plethora of problems in the U.S. However, this action may not have the outcome the plaintiffs wish. Unlike in Canada, where this issue does not exist, the U.S. does not have a rule set in place that forces automakers to install immobilizers. In the end, it might all be for nothing, and the sole winners could be the lawyers.
But it's worth noting that both Hyundai and Kia have released a software update that somewhat fixes the issue highlighted by the TikTok trend. The brands have also designed new stickers for the affected models that have received the free update. These have a deterrent role, even though they’re not that easy to notice.
Regarding the St. Louis suit, Kia said it is “without merit”, just like the other ones started by officials in Cleveland, Columbus, Milwaukee, San Diego, and Seattle.
Still, this remains a PR nightmare for the South Korean carmakers. Some insurers added fuel to the fire when they publicly announced that many of the cars these two brands sold in the U.S. between 2011 and 2021 were suddenly uninsurable.
Finally, both brands are also part of 15 class-action lawsuits filed by disgruntled owners. It’s a tough time for the automakers, but they stand a chance at winning, solely because the U.S. never mandated immobilizers on vehicles. But justice must run its course, and we must wait until the decisions are made public.