wait what is happening on tiktok?

The Kids Are Stealing Cars on TikTok Now

Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photos: Getty Images

Picture this: It’s a gorgeous Tuesday morning in Los Angeles. The sun is shining, the birds are chirping, and you’re ready for another day at the office. You grab your laptop, your homemade lunch (yes, look at you meal-planning!), and, of course, your car keys. But gasp! When you step outside, you see nothing but an empty parking space where you thought you’d parked your car the night before. Puzzled, 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 loops of the block and increasingly frantic clicking to no avail, you think to yourself, Did someone … steal my car? 

A few weeks ago, one of my roommates in the Highland Park neighborhood of L.A. found herself in this unfortunate situation. Confused, we looked out at cars lined up on our block. My Toyota Prius was parked exactly as I’d left it the night before, and my other roommate’s bright-red Volkswagen was sitting pretty, basking in the morning light. Between them, however, a vacant parking spot — her Kia Optima MIA.

Sigh. City living, I thought: The price we pay to live and gentrify at 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 theft was limited. But this theft seemed a bit odd even to me from the start: The ten-year-old Kia hardly seemed like the car to go for on a block that generally has a Tesla, a Lexus, and a few Toyotas with notoriously easy-to-nab catalytic converters. Why the Kia?

Well, the answer turns out to be quite simple: TikTok.

Thanks to some apparently flawed product design on the part of car companies, stealing Kia (and Hyundai!) cars is a full-ass, I-shit-you-not trend on the app — complete with signature audio, a since-removed hashtag, and a bevy of kids across the country who call themselves the “Kia Boyz” and have figured out how to break into any 2011 and later Kia (or 2015 and later Hyundai) with nothing but a screwdriver and a USB cord. And they’re going for joyrides (featuring donuts across manicured lawns and zigzagging down freeways at top speeds), filming it, and putting it on the internet!

Wait, who are the “Kia Boyz”?

Not who — what. The “Kia Boyz” trend, which revved up (sorry) earlier this year, began in Milwaukee in 2021 and quickly began spreading across the Midwest. The trend has now sparked increased car theft nationwide 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 the many, many videos I’ve watched, it seems as though anyone with absolutely zero hot-wiring experience could cruise off Kia style in under a minute. Per these tutorials, which can be found with a simple “Kia Boyz” Google search, one needs only to use a trusty screwdriver to break open the [redacted], crack a [redacted], and grab a USB cord, using the plug end to turn on the ignition. (As I said, it’s Google-able.) Voilà! You’ve just done your first grand-theft auto. So remarkably simple that even I, who learned about the existence of gas-pump trigger locks like yesterday, could do it.

As long as the TikTokers don’t come across law enforcement while feeling the wind in their hair as they shoot down an empty freeway at 1 a.m., these kids generally drop the cars off wherever they please after they are done. Or they completely total the innocent Kia in a DIY version of Stadium Super Trucks.

Wait, and actual kids are doing this?

Yes. Like, really young kids. One 11-year old boy in Ohio even got caught stealing two cars within one week. According to most reports, the trend has gained traction mostly with kids between 11 and 17 years old, meaning the majority of Kia Boy–content creators are absolutely not licensed to drive. So not only do you need to have night terrors about your beautiful Kia Soul going AWOL, but you can also wake up in a panic about preteens turning our great nation’s freeway system into a Kia/Hyundai-sponsored bumper-car track complete with real human obstacles.

Is everyone okay?

Absolutely not! Innocent drivers, pedestrians, and the Kia Boyz themselves have been killed across the country both while recklessly driving and while fleeing the wrath of law enforcement. This is no joke. It’s dangerous. And while of course lost lives are far more tragic than lost property, having your car stolen obviously really sucks.

Is Kia doing anything about this? What about TikTok?

According to statements from Kia and Hyundai, all 2022 models feature an “immobilizer,” which is considered a pretty standard anti-theft feature according to other car manufacturers. 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 be removing any content linked to the trend.

When you factor in an obsession with virality and social-media trends fueled by tech overlords who have crafted algorithms that serve us perfectly tailored content that not only exposes us to but encourages us (and children!) to take part in potentially dangerous challenges and trends, dare I ask … what’s next? An arson challenge? A bank-heist trend? We grown-ups have really created a perfect storm here, methinks.

The Kids Are Stealing Cars on TikTok Now