CHARLOTTE, N.C. (QUEEN CITY NEWS) – A social media trend circulating online is to blame for a nationwide uptick in car thefts.

A recent report released by the National Insurance Crime Bureau shows car thefts surpassed one million in 2022. The last time the U.S. saw that many car thefts in one year were nearly 15 years ago.

“It is what it is,” said south Charlotte resident Joe Gonzalez. “They are going to take it.”

But not all cars are being targeted equally.

Typically, victims of car theft are left in a state of shock when their vehicle is no longer where they left it, but Gonzalez says his 2019 Hyundai would eventually be targeted.

“I looked over and immediately see glass on the ground and said, ‘okay, it finally happened,'” Gonzalez said. “There is not much you can really do. They just break the window out, rip the steering column out, rip the key ignition out, plug in an iPhone charger in, and start it.”

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Video after video on the social media platform points out a design flaw, particularly in Hyundai and Kia models. Once a thief enters the vehicle, they can turn the car on within minutes and drive off.

“A lot of people know it started with a TikTok challenge in another state, and it has just kind of gone viral and has unfortunately affected Charlotte as well,” Capt. Matthew Horner with the CMPD said. “Accessing the vehicle for this type of trend theft, they do have to disassemble some part of the steering column to get access to that,”

Recently, Hyundai donated more than 100 steering wheel locks to CMPD to hand out to Hyundai and Kia drivers with impacted models for free.

“This is kind of being treated as a stopgap until the dealership can push out a larger patch fix,” Capt. Horner said.

In an email to Queen City News, Hyundai said it offers free anti-theft software upgrades to impacted customers. In the meantime, the car company has donated more than 40,000 wheel locks to affected communities across the country.

“It helps. It will divert people maybe a little bit, delay it. But it is super easy; you can YouTube how to do it,” Gonzalez said. “They are going to get it if they want it.”

He says at least three other vehicles were recently stolen from his apartment complex.

His turned up two days later, abandoned less than a mile down the road, and with a disassembled steering column.

“It ruins people’s lives a little bit. Just getting to work, you don’t realize when you don’t have a car,” Gonzalez said. “Like, ‘oh, I don’t have a car anymore,’ and just like that, you have no say. You just don’t have a car.”

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CMPD will hand out the free wheel locks Saturday at First Baptist Church–West from 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.

People must prove they are Charlotte residents and arrive in a Kia or Hyundai.