How Police Are Fighting Car Thefts – NBC New York

It’s a TikTok challenge that’s fueling stolen cars across New York City and the country, as a USB plug has become thieves’ tool of choice — but now there’s an easy way to protect the targeted vehicles.

The car theft trend is targeting owners of Kia and Hyundai vehicles, and anyone who has been on the video sharing platform may have seen it by now.

It’s called the Kia Challenge, and it is believed to have started in the Midwest. It shows how easy it is to steal the particular brands’ vehicles because of a security flaw with the cars.

Now it has garnered the attention of the NYPD after an alarming increase in car thefts: The police department said that since the TikTok challenge hit in mid-2022, thefts of Kias and Hyundais have shot up 50 percent. 

“We see that 14- to 17-year-old kids are taking these cars and they might think it’s a joke, but they’re driving around recklessly, they’re hanging out the windows, and unfortunately sometimes they crash and people get hurt,” said NYPD Chief of Patrol John Chell.

The vehicles being targeted are very specific: Kias or Hyundais built over the last decade with traditional ignitions. A USB cable is the key to swiping the vehicle, though it has little to do with the technology.

“It’s a USB cable, old style USB cable and it’s nothing to do technologically with the USB cable. It just happens to be the right size to activate the ignition in the vehicle,” said NYPD Auto Crime Unit Detective Thomas Kelly.

Chell said that the “phenom” is primarily hitting in Manhattan and the Bronx.

Hyundai and Kia issued a recall for more than 485,000 cars, telling owners to park outside as they can catch on fire even while the engine is off.

Just days ago, police said a 17-year-old stole a Kia from Harlem after being inspired by the TikTok challenge. The teen smashed into a tree in the Bronx before being arrested. No one was hurt.

“Young kids. Stolen cars. No license. Driving recklessly it paints a picture that everyone needs to know,” said Chell.

The NYPD has taken to social media to sound the alarm. So how can those with the targeted vehicle models protect their car?

“Park in a well-lit area, make sure you take your key with you, if you have a driveway to park in that’s better,” Kelly said.

But perhaps the best defense? An old security tool that’s been used for decades.

“The biggest thing would be to secure your steering wheel. Immobilize your steering wheel. The old-fashioned club. Old technology has become new again,” Kelly said.

Police say all Kias and Hyundais made after 2021 come standard with anti-theft immobilizers, which would prevent the challenge.

Is the clock ticking on TikTok in America? Already banned on many government devices, some federal officials, politicians, and law enforcement want the popular app banned for everyone. Do they have a reason to be concerned, and could TikTok’s days be numbered?

Both Kia and Hyundai said all of their vehicles meet or exceed federal safety standards. The added that they are working on software updates, but no timeline for when it will be available.

Hyundai is offering a security kit for drivers, but it costs $170.

The only free option? Since this started, Hyundai told us its partnering with some law enforcement agencies to distribute steering wheel locks for eligible drivers in impacted areas.

The automaker said it has partnered with 120 agencies nationwide, but would not share what those agencies are.

When reached for comment, TikTok said in a statement that it “does not condone this behavior which violates our policies and will be removed if found on our platform.”