Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photos: Getty Images
Picture this: It’s a beautiful Tuesday morning in Los Angeles. The sun is shining, the birds are chirping, and you’re ready for another day at the office. Grab your laptop, your home-cooked lunch (yes, look at that meal planning!) and, of course, your car keys. But panting! When you get outside, you see nothing but an empty parking spot where you are OPINION you parked the car the night before. Confused, you walk up and down the block, clicking away at your key alarm, hoping to hear the familiar “beep beep” somewhere in the distance. But after a few block steps and increasingly frantic clicks to no avail, you think to yourself, Did someone steal my car?
A few weeks ago, one of my roommates in LA’s Highland Park neighborhood found himself in this unfortunate situation. Confused, we looked at the cars lined up on our block. My Toyota Prius was parked exactly as I’d left it the night before, and my roommate’s bright red Volkswagen sat pretty, basking in the morning light. Among them, however, a free parking space – its Kia Optima MPIA.
Sigh. Living in the city, I thought: The price we pay to live and be honored in the center of it all! As a born and raised New Yorker currently navigating the hellscape that is first car ownership, my understanding of the frequency of car thefts was limited. But this steal seemed a little odd to me at first, too: The ten-year-old Kia hardly seemed like the go-to car on a block that generally has a Tesla, a Lexus, and a few Toyotas with notoriously easy-nab catalytic converters. Why Kia?
Well, the answer turns out to be quite simple: TikTok.
Thanks to some seemingly flawed product designs from car companies, stealing Kia (and Hyundai!) cars is a huge trend on the app — complete with signature audio, a since-removed hashtag, and a group of kids on around the country who call themselves “Kia Boyz” and have figured out how to break into any 2011 and later Kia (or 2015 and later Hyundai) with nothing more than a screwdriver and a USB cable. And they’re going for the fun (dancing donuts across manicured lawns and zigzagging down highways at top speed), filming it and putting it online!
Not who – what. The “Kia Boyz” trend, which was revived (sorry) earlier this year, started in Milwaukee in 2021 and quickly began to spread throughout the Midwest. The trend has now fueled an increase in car thefts across the country thanks to countless videos on TikTok and YouTube.
And like any good TikTok trend, the barrier to entry for this “challenge” is minimal. According to many, many videos I’ve seen, it looks like anyone with absolutely zero hot-plug experience can go from Kia style in less than a minute. According to these instructions, which can be found with a simple Google search for “Kia Boyz”, you should only use a trusty screwdriver to break [redacted]crack a [redacted], and grab a USB cord, using the plug end to turn on the ignition. (Like I said, it’s Google-able.) Voilà! You’ve just made your first grand theft auto. So amazingly simple that even I, who learned about the existence of gas pump trigger locks like yesterday, could do it.
As long as TikTokers don’t run into law enforcement while feeling the wind in their hair as they tear down an empty highway at 1 a.m., these kids generally let the cars go wherever they want after they’re done. Or they completely complement the innocent Kia in a DIY version of Stadium Super Trucks.
Yes. Like, really little kids. An 11-year-old boy in Ohio was even caught stealing two cars in one week. According to most reports, the trend has gained traction mainly with kids between 11 and 17 years old, which means that most Kia Boy content creators are absolutely not licensed to drive. So not only do you have to have night terrors about your beautiful Kia Soul going AWOL, but you can also wake up in a panic about teenagers turning our great nation’s highway system into a sponsored bumper car track by Kia/Hyundai complete with real people. obstacles.
Absolutely not! Innocent drivers, pedestrians and the Kia Boyz themselves have been killed across the country both while driving recklessly and fleeing the wrath of law enforcement. This is no joke. Its dangerous. And while lost lives are certainly far more tragic than lost property, having your car stolen is obviously really bad.
According to statements from Kia and Hyundai, all 2022 models have an “immobilizer,” which is considered a fairly standard anti-theft feature by other automakers. They have also encouraged car owners to contact their customer assistance centers if they have questions or concerns about their vehicle’s anti-theft features. Meanwhile, TikTok has released a statement saying that this behavior “categorically violates” its policies and that it will remove any content related to the trend.
When you factor in an obsession with virality and social media trends fueled by tech overlords who have created algorithms that serve us perfectly tailored content that not only exposes us, but encourages us (and the kids!) to take part of the challenges and potentially dangerous trends, I dare to ask … what is it other? An arson challenge? A bank robbery trend? We adults have really created a perfect storm here, methinks.