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Police are encouraging owners of Hyundai and Kia vehicles to take extra precautions amid a surge in people stealing these cars in Berkeley.

The Berkeley Police Department believes the uptick may be partly caused by a TikTok challenge encouraging these thefts. Previously making up a minimal portion of local car thefts, thefts of Hyundai and Kia vehicles have skyrocketed since November, according to police data released Wednesday.

The crimes target models of Hyundai and Kia vehicles that are not equipped with an engine immobilizer. Police estimate these vehicles have accounted for 38% of Berkeley vehicle thefts since December. 

Elmwood resident Susan Fischer said thieves stole her Kia shortly before Christmas. She said it vanished over the weekend and didn’t notice it was missing until she set out to drive to a park on a Monday morning.

“I got ready to drive out there, and I thought, ‘Oh my God. The car isn’t here,” Fischer said.

Fischer said the car, which was locked at the time of the theft, showed up in an Oakland impound lot about a month later. A window had been smashed and the vehicle was stripped of all valuable parts.

Kevin Zevallos, who works at M&A Towing in Southwest Berkeley, said he has “most definitely” seen an increase in stolen Kias and Hyundais at his impound lot, with over seven of these vehicles appearing there recently.

Credit: Berkeley Police Department

“It’s getting a little ridiculous right now,” he said.

Berkeley’s thefts are part of a nationwide trend. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimated on Feb. 14 that the social media challenge had resulted in at least 14 reported crashes and eight fatalities.

Hyundai and Kia announced in February that they would be rolling out security updates starting near the end of that month. Both companies said the rollout will take a “phased approach” spanning several months.

The security update extends the length of vehicles’ alarm sounds from 30 seconds to one minute and requires a key to be in a car’s ignition switch to turn the vehicle on.

While the security update gets underway, police encourage car owners to consider buying steering wheel locks and parking in a garage or a busy, well-lit location.

Car owners can find out more information on the security update by contacting Hyundai at 800-633-5151 or Kia at 800-333-4542.