WASHINGTON, Feb 14 (Reuters) - Hyundai Motor (005380.KS) and Kia Corp (000270.KS) will offer software upgrades to 8.3 million U.S. vehicles to help curb increasing car thefts using a method popularized on TikTok and other social media channels, the Korean automakers said on Tuesday.
TikTok videos showing how to steal cars made from 2015 to 2019 without push-button ignitions and immobilizing anti-theft devices has spread nationwide. This had led to at least 14 reported crashes and eight fatalities," the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said.
The free upgrade will be offered for 3.8 million Hyundai and 4.5 million Kia vehicles in the United States, the automakers and NHTSA said.
The software "updates the theft alarm software logic to extend the length of the alarm sound from 30 seconds to one minute and requires the key to be in the ignition switch to turn the vehicle on," NHTSA said.
TikTok did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
USA Today reported last month that two major insurance companies had stopped offering new policies for Hyundai and Kia vehicles at high risk of theft.
Many 2015-19 model year Hyundai and affiliate Kia vehicles have no electronic immobilizers, which prevent break-ins and bypassing the ignition. The feature is standard on nearly all vehicles made by other manufacturers during that period.
U.S. theft claims in 2022 were nearly twice as common for Hyundai and Kia vehicles compared with all other manufacturers among 2015-2019 vehicles, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety data show.
The group said after the Korean-car thefts, which began in 2021, got significant social media attention in Wisconsin and then spread, overall claims on Hyundai and Kia thefts per insured vehicle year soared to more than 30 times the 2019 level.
Hyundai will also provide customers with a window sticker alerting would-be thieves that the vehicle is equipped with anti-theft protection.
The initial Hyundai upgrade will cover more than 1 million 2017-2020 Elantra, 2015-2019 Sonata and 2020-2021 Venue model year vehicles. The software upgrade is scheduled to be available by June for vehicles that remain eligible.
Kia said started notifying owners about the upgrade and anticipates making it available to most owners over the next few months.
The automakers have provided more than 26,000 steering wheel locks since November 2022 to 77 law enforcement agencies in 12 states.
Kia said it also continues "to make steering wheel locks available at no cost through interested local law enforcement agencies," subject to supply.
All Hyundai vehicles produced since November 2021 are equipped with an engine immobilizer as standard equipment.