Upper Darby mother voices concern with Kia software upgrade after car was stolen, impaired

Many are saying that the update is an "insufficient response to the problem."

ByNydia Han and Heather Grubola WPVI logo
Thursday, May 25, 2023
Upper Darby mother voices concern with Kia software upgrade after car was stolen, impaired
Car owners are voicing their concerns about a software upgrade designed to stop the thefts of Kia and Hyundai vehicles.

UPPER DARBY, Pennsylvania (WPVI) -- Car owners are voicing their concerns about a software upgrade designed to stop the thefts of Kia and Hyundai vehicles.

There are questions about whether the upgrade works, and it comes as 18 attorneys general are demanding a recall of affected models.

Many are saying that the update is an "insufficient response to the problem."

A Drexel Hill mother says her car was almost stolen after she had anti-theft software installed. However, an unforeseen side effect impacted how she is now starting the ignition.

Antonette Cook has a very unusual way of starting her SUV.

"Attach the USB to this part to turn it on," she explained.

How she got to this point is an interesting story, she says.

"I received a letter in the mail from Kia stating that there's a software update, about a week after my neighbor's car got broken into," Cook recalled.

Kia and Hyundai developed the software for millions of their vehicles, saying it extends the length of the theft alarm from 30 seconds to one minute and requires the key to be in the ignition to turn the vehicle on.

The update was in response to a spike in thefts the Troubleshooters warned drivers about last year.

READ | TikTok challenge sparks surge in car thefts across Philadelphia region, police say

According to police records, over the past week, at least 35 Hyundais and Kias were stolen across the city. Police say the criminals learned how to start the cars on TikTok.

Investigators blamed it on a TikTok challenge, which encouraged people to start the vehicles with a USB cable.

"I thought it was fine. I thought it was updated," said Cook.

She had the update installed on her 2019 Kia Sportage L and even had anti-theft stickers applied to both sides of the vehicle.

But a week ago, things took a turn for the worse.

"Someone broke into my car," Cook said. "No alarm went off whatsoever."

Cook says a neighbor saw it happen and called the police.

"As they got there, I guess the people that were trying to steal my car got out of the car and left. They left the USB in the car and they had already broken my window and taken everything apart to take the car," she said.

Now, the only way Cook can start her vehicle is with that USB cord the thieves left in her ignition.

"And the USB cord hangs out of the car the entire time," she said. "So, I'm just sitting with an exposed car in the event that they decide to do it again."

Cook says she alerted the dealership the software upgrade failed to work and then contacted the Troubleshooters.

"The same day you guys reached out to me after I reached out to you, Kia called me and asked me a lot of questions," she said.

Kia says it is investigating and expediting repairs to the ignition system on Cook's SUV.

It also stated, "We remain confident that the software upgrade we developed works as designed."

The software upgrade isn't available for remote-start vehicles. Kia says it is contacting owners of those cars to keep them informed of its progress and offering them steering wheel locks to use in the meantime.

Hyundai says its remote-start vehicles have engine immobilizers and do not need the upgrade.

Hyundai Full Statement:

If the vehicle has a remote start or was produced after November 2021, it has an engine immobilizer and is not subject to the method of theft popularized on social media and therefore would not need the software upgrade. If the vehicle has a standard "turn-key-to-start" ignition system, customers may input their VIN here or at www.hyundaiantitheft.com to determine if it is eligible for Hyundai's free software upgrade.

Hyundai Motor America has also taken the following actions: (1) Made engine immobilizers standard on all vehicles produced as of November 2021; (2) Developed a software upgrade to equip these vehicles with an "ignition kill" feature designed to prevent the popularized method of theft; (3) Rolled out the free anti-theft software upgrade to all of the nearly 4 million vehicles involved - two months ahead of the original schedule - through a service campaign to affected customers who own or lease model year 2011-2022 vehicles; (4) Launched a dedicated website HyundaiAntiTheft.com, toll-free number (888) 498-0390 and digital advertising to generate awareness of the software upgrade, help customers determine their eligibility, and schedule an appointment at their local Hyundai dealership; (5) Initiated a program to reimburse affected customers for their purchase of steering wheel locks, including for a smaller group of 2011-2022 model year vehicles that cannot accommodate the software upgrade; (6) Established a program to provide free steering wheel locks to law enforcement agencies across the country for distribution to local residents who own or lease the affected vehicles; (7) Collaborated with AAA insurers on a program to offer insurance options for affected owners and lessees. As part of this collaboration, AAA insurers will issue new and renewal policies for eligible affected Hyundai customers. The program will be available in all states with the exception of those states where AAA does not offer insurance. (e.g., Alaska, Massachusetts, Washington).

In addition, Hyundai Motor America and Kia America, Inc. announced an agreement to resolve class action litigation with owners of certain Hyundai and Kia vehicles without push-button ignitions and immobilizing anti-theft devices. For the subset of customers whose vehicles cannot accommodate the software upgrade, the agreement will provide reimbursement of up to $300 for the purchase of the purchase of various anti-theft devices.

For more information click here:Hyundai Motor America and Kia America Resolve Consumer Litigation in Response to Vehicle Thefts - Hyundai Newsroom