Viral TikTok trend still affecting Portland car owners

It took just two minutes for thieves to break the window, start the car and drive away.
Published: Nov. 14, 2023 at 9:20 AM PST
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PORTLAND Ore. (KPTV) - It took just two minutes for thieves to break the window, start the car and drive away. No car alarm, no one noticed. Until the next morning.

“I walked out, and I was just like, my God. I froze. I had no idea how to process that at all,” said Joley Forman. Her Hyundai Elantra was gone, one of a growing number to have been taken as a result of a viral TikTok trend.

Over the past year, 10s of thousands of Kia’s and Hyundai’s have been stolen across the country, 2,709 just in Portland. A social media challenge known as the Kia Boys showed people how to start vulnerable cars with just a USB cable and a smartphone. The company has implemented a software fix, but millions of cars have yet to be updated and many people are still in the dark about the problem.

Hyundai and Kia, which are separate companies but financially connected, announced a free fix in February of this year. It was primarily a software update that extended the length of the car alarm sound from 30 seconds to one minute. The new software would also require the key to be in the ignition to turn the vehicle on, fixing the core vulnerability that was originally exploited.

The impacted vehicles were all made from 2010 through 2021 and have key start rather than push start ignitions.

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“The automakers built them without what’s called an immobilizer. And an immobilizer is a device that if you don’t have the key and the ignition, the engine won’t start,” said Patrick Olsen, the editor-in-chief at Carfax. The European Union has required immobilizers as a standard feature in all new vehicles since 1998.

The two car companies are also offering to reimburse owners to buy a steering wheel lock, commonly known as a club.

A class action lawsuit alleges that all this isn’t enough to compensate owners.

Initially filed in late 2022, the class action lawsuit represents owners of any of the affected vehicles.

While a settlement was initially reached in May, the judge rejected it saying that victims deserved more compensation. That same judge preliminarily approved a new settlement this month that will allow for reimbursement of up to 60% for stolen vehicles and 33% or $3,375 for vehicles criminally damaged.

According to one of the law firms representing the class, notice of the settlement will be sent out to class members no later than March 4, 2024. Likely, the earliest time victims will receive any compensation is next summer.

Carfax has partnered with Kia and Hyundai to track the number of cars yet to be fixed. Carfax added a note to the vehicle history of vulnerable cars informing potential buyers of the need for a fix.

According to the company, there are about 4.5 million vehicles that still need repair. About 400,000 vehicles have been updated since Carfax started tracking the numbers in July.

SEE ALSO: Portland metro law enforcement have new tool to stop suspects

One issue is getting the word out.

While mailers have gone out, Olsen acknowledges, the mail system is flawed.

“Mail is not what it used to be, it’s no longer a primary means of communication for a lot of folks. Secondly, there have been so many mail-based, for lack of a better word, scams, right? People trying to sell extended warranties for cars. And I think for some people who get that piece of mail, they assume it’s like everything else they’ve gotten and they just put it aside,” said Olsen.

Many people never knew about the vulnerability until it was too late.

“Apparently this has been going on for quite a while. So, I feel like not only was I late to the party but I’m suffering because of it,” said Forman who says though she is an avid social media user she hasn’t seen any mention of the issue. She’s back on the market for a replacement car but isn’t convinced that car companies are holding up their end of the bargain.

“I feel like they’re not taking responsibility in this situation,” said Forman. “They’re not establishing, ‘Hey, we messed up and we’re going to make efforts to fix this.’”