While the Kia Boys might sound like an up-and-coming rap group, it’s actually much worse. It’s a TikTok trend that exploits a rather alarming vulnerability in older Kia (and Hyundai) cars; thieves can start these vehicles with just a USB cable and a flat-head screwdriver. Once they gain access, they go for a joyride and either crash or dump the vehicles after they’ve had their kicks. Thankfully, there are more than a few ways to safeguard your vehicle against their antics.
Whom Does It Affect/How Does It Work
The hack affects Kia vehicles from model year 2011 through 2021 and Hyundai vehicles from model year 2016 through 2021. Within those, it’s the entry-level cars with keyed ignitions that are susceptible. The more advanced vehicles with keyless ignitions use immobilizers, basically a communicator in the fob that only allows the car to start when the key is inside and will prevent it from turning on if the fob isn’t. More basic cars that use turn-key ignition don’t have that safety feature baked in, meaning they’re prime pickings.
As standard, thieves are able to break the rear window without triggering the alarm system—giving them relatively easy access to the ignition. There are other ways they can gain entry too, but for obvious reasons, we’re not going to give you a detailed breakdown of how the Kia Boys hack works. Once thieves gain entry into a vulnerable Hyundai or Kia, they’re able to simply remove the ignition tumbler with a screwdriver and start the car with just a USB cable; the cable doesn’t actually connect to anything but merely fits around the nub that the tumbler turns when you insert the key. Once they’re in, the car starts as normal, and they’re off to the races.
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How To Protect Yourself
Thankfully, there are a number of ways to deter the Kia Boys that are quick, easy, and affordable. Starting with the simplest, you can park yourself in—essentially trapping your car. Sure, this will be a bit of a nuisance for you and your roommates (if you have them), but it might just save your Kia or Hyundai from appearing on the front page of TikTok. Other solutions involve parking inside, locking your vehicle (you’d be surprised how many people don’t), or simply buying a third-party immobilizer. If you’re uncomfortable installing one yourself, your local mechanic will likely be able to do it for you relatively cheaply.
After getting word of the issue, automakers began working with local law enforcement to send owners of vulnerable cars steering-wheel locks. However, Wade Hughes, a mechanic at Sun Devil Auto in Sun Lakes, Arizona, has said that these don’t really work. “It looks great, and you can’t cut through the device, but the actual steering wheel is just a thin metal rod covered in foam,” says Hughes. “You can literally hacksaw through a steering wheel in about three seconds.” Once the steering wheel is cut, the club can be removed, and the car is gone.
He says investing in a kill switch is a much more affordable and effective alternative. Commonly used in motorcycles, these devices interrupt the circuit between the ignition and the battery, meaning that the car (or motorcycle) won’t start when the kill switch is active. There are a slew on Amazon available for less than $60, though we recommend this Flukin.
As of October 1, 2022, Hyundai has reportedly begun selling Compustar Firstech glass-break security kits (similar to this one) to protect customers. The select system is slated to cost $170 and upwards of $500 on top of that to get installed at a dealer. That’s $670 that owners will likely have to fork over for the simple privilege of not having their car stolen.
You can also consider a dash cam. One won’t outright prevent your car from getting stolen and taken for a ride, but it could capture footage and evidence in case you are targeted.
Even with both automakers’ efforts to save face, lawsuits have begun piling up, with owners citing the lack of an immobilizer. This issue is quite surprising, given that our Canadian neighbors have legally mandated the use of immobilizers in new vehicles since 2007. While the majority of new Kias do have immobilizers, the device didn’t become a standard option on all vehicles until the 2022 model year. Hopefully the Kia Boys trend passes quickly, but it never hurts to guard yourself against it if you think your car could be at risk.
Matt Crisara is a native Austinite who has an unbridled passion for cars and motorsports, both foreign and domestic, and as the Autos Editor for Popular Mechanics, he writes the majority of automotive coverage across digital and print. He was previously a contributing writer for Motor1 following internships at Circuit Of The Americas F1 Track and Speed City, an Austin radio broadcaster focused on the world of motor racing. He earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Arizona School of Journalism, where he raced mountain bikes with the University Club Team. When he isn’t working, he enjoys sim-racing, FPV drones, and the great outdoors.